Interview with Nabil Elderkin ‘Gully’: from clips to feature films
Over 10 years of preparation, the film by director Nabil Elderkin and screenwriter Marcus J. Guillory Gully finally debuted on the big screen earlier this month. With performances by Jonathan Majors, Terrence Howard, Travis Scott and more, the film is unlike anything else and marks a major debut for Elderkin as a bona fide filmmaker.
Gully takes you on an exciting 48 hour journey with three LA teens who are the product of childhood trauma. âWhat you see in the movie is that each of these characters carries this angst, this anger and this PTSD and a variety of things that they go through simultaneously, while other things are happening,â Guillory said. . Rolling stone. âIt speaks to the kids that no one is listening and no one even cares about their perspective and associates their trauma and says, ‘Hey, you know what? I also went through stuff. I count. I count. I have value.
It all started in 2006, when Guillory wrote the initial screenplay for the film. Elderkin, who is best known for his stunning music videos and photographs of musicians like Kanye West and Frank Ocean, knew from the moment he read the script that this was the movie he wanted to make. âIt was written in a whole new way,â he said. “It’s not just a movie. It says something about people who don’t always see things the way they want.”
Elderkin was born in Chicago but spent his early years in Australia. He got his start as a photographer photographing his friends on the surf before eventually photographing bands and DJs. In 2003, he met Kanye West in the most fortuitous way possible. âWhen he signed on, they wanted to have kaynewest.com and I had it,â he explained. While these early encounters led to a historically rich career in the music industry, Elderkin’s work on the video for Antony and the Johnsons’ 2012 project âCut the Worldâ gave him the confidence necessary to immerse oneself in the cinema. âI remember working with a real actor in Willem Dafoe. It was just like, fuck this guy, âElderkin says. âFrom there I think it was something that caught the attention of a manager and an agent that led to Gully. “
Elderkin spoke to Rolling stone about the work on his first feature film, and how working with musicians informs his approach to cinema.
Can you tell me more about how this movie came about?
I met this producer Alex in New York by chance at the Bowery Hotel. He was like, yo, I have the script that I tried to get to you. The next day I read it and couldn’t let go. I hadn’t met Marcus yet so we got on the phone and the next conversation was that I was trying to woo him. We got along and I understood what his intention was with the film. I didn’t even know what I wanted him to look like. It was right in my head as I read the script. So the movie has gone through different iterations since that first script, a lot of iterations. Like every day on the set, every day things change. It evolved as I shot. I also had to bring my experiences to it, things that I could really relate to, which was the beach aspect and maybe other aspects as well.
You mentioned that once you saw the script you knew you had to make the movie. What made you feel this about the script?
It was written in a whole new way. If you read it on paper, the original version, it was like something out of the ordinary. It’s not just a movie. It says something about people who don’t always see things the way they want them to or that people can’t listen to the way they want them to be said. And I’m not saying I’m saying it, but I felt that with this film I could at least create a conversation. The script is a little wild, I’m a little wild. I have been blessed to experience many different cultures and meet many different people in my life. I think I felt a connection with these characters.
You said the beach is something you can relate to, and it’s an important part of the movie, why is the beach something you can relate to?
I was born in Chicago, but my parents sent me to Australia when I was three. And I grew up surfing the beach. Surf Life Saving, that’s where you run on the beach, you do these silly little sports on the beach, but you swim a lot and stuff now. The simple fact of being at the edge of the ocean has a curative property. I remember there was a time when I went to Compton probably 15 years ago. When The Game was first released. I went to take pictures of him and his friends. And there’s just a moment when I really remember talking about my surfing style. I was like, you should try surfing and he was like, “Dude, I’ve never been to the beach, bro.” I don’t remember the number of blocks, maybe it was 16, but he said he never left more than 16 blocks. It stuck with me like, man, how can this person live so close to the beach and never have been. But by working with the Surf Bus Foundation, I am learning a bit more about it. Systematically, people almost created barriers to reach the beach.
What was your thinking when creating these visuals?
I tried not to show it completely, to be honest. I think I wanted to show as much off-camera as possible. As if you don’t actually see the violence in any way. Maybe it registers because there is a lot of power in the sound and it cuts out. You know, there are a lot of movies in all genres where you have brain splatter and severed heads. There is a lot of power in what is not seen and that is largely the subject of the film.
How did you integrate the video game aspect?
This is something I found later in the process. I remember there was a scene that is no longer in the movie, but it was something that happened with a policeman. It was pretty crazy and I didn’t want something to be so blatant. I just wanted to show it in a different way. By the way, kids see it every day, if you watch GTA they’re very specific with where they choose to create these scenes. So, I thought that would be a good way to show the violence in the movie and to show parallels in surreality – I just made up this one.
Can you tell me more about how you chose the cast?
I’ll be honest, it was something that grew organically. Charlie [Plummer], I met almost as a kid. I met him a few years ago. A few years before I even got to the point of shooting, Charlie was someone a friend put on the map for me and I met him and we had been in touch. He was super excited and super young. So he had been involved for a long time. Kelvin [Harrison Jr.] came later in the game. It was a recommendation. The financier and producer had worked with him on a film with a friend of ours. John Legend also recommended it. For Jacob [Latimore], he had been on an audition tape. I remember seeing at one point that he had something special and then I remember meeting him later at the premiere of one of his movies and saying to him, you know, I wish that you were part of my film. When it happened, we got to the end and he was there and he was available. Jonathan [Majors] is my good friend. This guy is special. And that’s before a lot of his big roles came out. He introduced himself on set as Greg and he left the set as Greg. Every moment he was there in spirit. He was there for me too. Like I think about it and it felt really special to have him as part of that and obviously people know who he is now. Terrence [Howard] arrived late and it was like the icing on the cake.
I know you have a background as a music photographer / music video maker. Can you talk about the incorporation of the music into the film and the composition of the soundtrack?
I wanted the music to feel like it’s part of the movie. I had to separate the score and the music. There’s the sheet music, made by Daniel Heath, an amazing friend of mine who did a wonderful job, and then there’s the music. I also use pieces from the score in part of the track production to help with this cohesion. Dua Lipa’s song has the Mr. Christmas bell (Terrance Howard’s character) and even the Snoh ââAalegra track. I also really wanted to make sure the moments hit like Ty Dolla $ ign, Schoolboy Q and B-Real playing during the barbecue scene, and 21 Savage bumping into the scene on the way to the club.
How did you get everyone from Travis Scott, Miguel, Metro Boomin and many more to be part of the soundtrack?
You know I have worked for 15 years with artists who give my heart to create things as part of their journey. Take something they’ve created so well and try to add a visual component to it. So being able to be in the position where I could ask them was scary and exciting. I was so grateful to all these artists who came and did it because it was a little independent film. They didn’t do it for money.
You have a huge catalog of accomplishments from Kanye West, Dua Lipa and even Don Toliver’s latest video for “What You Need”. The motif of your latest clips seems to incorporate cinematic aspects, why?
Well, “Welcome to Heartbreak” wasn’t a story. It was just a wild trip of psychedelic vibes. “Mercy” was like a freestyle. I just got in and they’re like, yo, can you shoot a video tonight. So I found a place and understood it. The more I immersed myself in the cinema, the more I wanted to expand. I had come to a point where I could either make a cool little short or a very simple statement. As long as he has a feeling. All I want is to create a feeling. As long as you can walk away and it adds or at least completes the song and doesn’t take anything away from it. I feel like I’m blessed because people give me money to do something. The song is almost like a script. And by the way, there will be a second part of Don Toliver’s “What You Need” video. I can’t say who or what, but it does happen. I am delighted to have artists ready to think outside the box and shoot in Colombia like Don’s video. To really walk in and just embrace it and immerse yourself in new communities. It’s awesome.