Oscars 2014 Best Picture Nominee 'Nebraska'

Local funnyman Bob Nelson hits the big time with Alexander Payne’s 'Nebraska'
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!--paging_filter--pAs “Psychic Bob” on Seattle’s long-running sketch comedy show emAlmost Live/em (which ran 1984–1999), cast member Bob Nelson played an ersatz prognosticator who could make only the most obvious predictions (“In 1998, Hooters will continue to attract a mostly male clientele”). As an announcer in a sketch about the Low-key Baseball Network (“For people who like to watch baseball, but perhaps they don’t care for all that noise”), he became catatonic when describing home runs. “I always played low-key people or dumb guys,” Nelson says. brbrBut now, in what is perhaps the apotheosis of against-type triumphs, the humble, unassuming, super-nice Whidbey Island resident has become a successful writer in the shark tank of Hollywood. Nelson, 57, a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvW_DmfKfSk" target="_blank"wrote the script for the much-anticipated movie /aema href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvW_DmfKfSk" target="_blank"Nebraska/a /em(opening November 22), directed by Alexander Payne (emSideways /emand emThe Descendants/em). Chosen as the opening film for the Vancouver Film Festival in September, Nebraska has been gathering buzz since its premiere at Cannes, where it garnered a 10-minute standing ovation, as well as a Best Actor award for its star, Bruce Dern. brbrNelson was born in South Dakota, but his parents both grew up Nebraska, so it seems only fitting that he would choose that state as the setting of his story about a son’s desire to get to know his father. The movie tells the story of Woody Grant (Dern), a former mechanic who is suffering possibly from dementia and most certainly from the effects of alcoholism, as he sets out from his home in Billings, Montana, to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, convinced by a piece of junk mail that he is “already a winner” in a million-dollar sweepstakes. He doesn’t get far before he’s picked up by the police, after which his son David (Will Forte ofem Saturday Night Live/em) agrees to drive him to Lincoln. With a dead-end job and nothing better to do, David hopes to show his dad the folly of his enterprise.brbrNelson says he didn’t want to make a typical father-son buddy movie. “I tried to figure out how to elevate the idea,” he says. While the movie doesn’t recapitulate his exact relationship with his father,nbsp; who was a functional alcoholic, art does imitate life to some degree. “Nebraska is more of a poem to my father, a way to honor him and others who have gone through war (and by extension, other tribulations) and come back wounded in ways we can’t see,” he says. “People have to figure out how to deal with loved ones who have addictions every day, I’m making a plea in the movie for as much compassion and understanding as possible.”brbrTen years ago, Nelson showed his script for Nebraska to Julie Thompson, a Los Angeles producer who was in town to work on The Eyes of Nye (the Bill Nye show for which Nelson was a performer and writer). She showed it to her colleague, Ron Yerxa, who had coproduced Alexander Payne’s Election. Yerxa showed the script to Payne, who is from Omaha, and asked if he knew any young directors from the Midwest who might be willing to cut their teeth on a really good low-budget movie, which typically costs about $2 million to make. According to Nelson, Payne said, “How about if I direct it, and how about if we do it for a little more than $2 million?” (Final price tag: about $13 million.)brbr“Alexander Payne likes bittersweet stories that reflect both the joys and sorrows of real life and real people,” Nelson says. “And he loves Nebraska. The producers liked the characters, and they liked that Woody has a clear-cut goal that propels the story, and in a more subtle way, so does David. It is character-driven, but there is a real purpose to their journey.”brbrNot every script that is optioned makes it to the big screen, and 10 years is a long time to wait. During that time, Nelson was a writer for Comedy Central and Fox television, and continued writing screenplays, rewriting over and over until they are as terse and poignant as the script for Nebraska. “When I tell film students I go through my scripts at least 50 times after the first draft, I see many sad faces,” he says. One of his scripts, an adaption of the French film emIntimate Strangers/em, is in development at Paramount, and he’s working with Chris Rock on an adaptation of the French film La première étoile.brbrNelson says his years spent writing short sketch pieces proved beneficial to his screenwriting. “I’d been trained by the brevity of sketch to be lean and economical in the writing,” he says. “Working in sketch also gave me some clue as to whether the humor would work.” brbrWhen he was first getting the hang of it, Nelson learned by reading other people’s scripts—one of which happened to be Payne’s Election. Back then, he never dreamed that one day he’d be working with the director. “For me to think that Alexander Payne would be the one to direct Nebraska would have been pretty delusional.”/p

Bruce Pavitt's New App, 8Stem, Makes You the DJ

Bruce Pavitt's New App, 8Stem, Makes You the DJ

Sub Pop's Bruce Pavitt has a new app that puts anyone in the producer's seat
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8Stem creative director Bruce Pavitt (foreground) and CEO Adam Farish in their Capitol Hill office: Sub Pop’s 25 million record sales were just a start

Sub Pop cofounder Bruce Pavitt knows times have changed since he launched Seattle’s billion-dollar music revolution in the ’80s. Today’s kids prefer gizmos to guitars, and technology gives them easy ways to do it all, from making music to producing it. Pavitt’s new company, 8Stem, offers music fans a free, easy-as-Instagram iPhone app by that name. It turns everyone into a producer, able to delete and add new tracks on existing recordings: lead, bass, drums, instruments, synthesized vocals, beats. Kids addicted to gaming and tech can now listen interactively, erasing part of a tune by Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil—one of 40 artists who license music to 8Stem—and recording their own sounds over Thayil’s, and then sharing it with the touch of a button, so others can remix it at will. “We live in a remix culture,” says Pavitt. “If you go to YouTube, type in any pop song, then add ‘remix,’ the remixes are going to exceed the listeners of the original song.” Pavitt and his tech-exec partner Adam Farish designed 8Stem to cash in on that trend. 

Artists whose music is part of the remix benefit financially thanks to Dubset, a new “fingerprint” technology that scans remixes and detects music owned by any of the 14,000 labels and publishers it has deals with, then makes sure the various owners of the rights are paid. “We just inked a deal with Dubset,” says Pavitt, “and our first track was on Spotify, ‘Sleep In’ by Telekinesis.” 8Stem user Anomie Belle, a noted Seattle musician, added her vocals to the song and put the new version on Spotify; Telekinesis, 8Stem and remixer Belle all get a slice of the profit—and you can, too.

About 30 of 8Stem’s 40 artists are from Seattle, though a few are from London, Argentina and New York City. “We’re trying to reignite the local culture so it’s an energy source for new music and fresh ideas that can go anywhere,” says Pavitt, who used that very technique to conquer the world at Sub Pop. 


Need to Know

1. As a student at The Evergreen State College, Pavitt used $50 and a crayon to create Sub Pop as a fanzine for credit in 1979, made it a record company, and then sold 49 percent of it to Warner Music Group for $20 million in 1995. 

2. Pavitt’s spirited teen pals in his hometown of Park Forest, Illinois, included Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto, who followed him to Seattle and started Soundgarden, and Tom Zutaut, who discovered Enya, Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses, featuring Seattle’s Duff McKagan.

3. Pavitt predicts that streaming music, including songs remixed on his new 8Stem app, will jump from a $4 billion market today to $16 billion in 2020.  

4. Farish (above, right) cofounded SmartAmerica Home Automation, owns Orcas Island’s Outlook Inn, made two albums and toured America as an electronic dance music DJ.