There is no other way to say it. Director, producer, writer, actor, and cinematographer Nick Smith stays busy. Born in Bristol, England, he began his career as a writer and graduated to research and editing for the BBC. He would become one of a small group of directors who helped revolutionize filmmaking in Scotland.
My introduction to Smith's work was at the West Ashley Barnes & Noble when he was doing a meet and greet for his latest book, Milk Treading — the Story of Julius, a milk addicted alley cat that finds himself immersed in a labyrinthian murder mystery. I was a fan of his work.
I never knew of his other non-author gigs. I never knew he directed a promo for Jump, Little Children's Jay Clifford. He worked as a cinematographer on the award-winning Revolutionary War feature All For Liberty in 2009. He's filmed documentary interviews with the late Pat Conroy. He's shot several award-winning short films. He has three feature films slated for release in 2018 alone as well as Cat City, the direct sequel to Milk Treading, which is due out this summer.
Nick Smith stays busy.
One of those aforementioned films, Cold Soldiers, was released this week. The movie is a love letter to the action flicks Smith and another busy soul, writer/actor/producer/editor/stunt coordinator Trevor Erickson, grew up on. Never an easy undertaking, the 10-years-in-the-making film features professional actors, and many Lowcountry locales. It took many months to shoot and a lot longer to edit and ultimately find a distributor for a film that has attained a cult following thanks to its car chases, story twists, fight scenes, and even Force Protection vehicles from Transformers.
The movie is set in a secret hospital where soldiers and spies who've failed their missions are monitored. When a series of assassinations are carried out, the title characters are the prime suspects.
As well as a testament to the hard work of so many local people, the film also serves as a Charleston time capsule of sorts. The Old Cigar Factory, before being gutted of course, the GARCO Plant, the Old Navy Yard, and Patriots Point were some of the locations used.
- Courtesy Nick Smith
- RW Smith, Nick Smith, Jimmy Hager
In the end, the movie involved over 200 actors and filmmakers. Distributed through Maverick Entertainment, the film has to make back its marketing budget before Smith and Erickson will see even a cent.
On the eve of the film's release on Amazon and stores like Wal-Mart and Family Video, Smith took a moment to chat.
City Paper: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Nick Smith: When I was a kid I went to see E.T. at the movies. There was a big hairy biker dude in the same row as me. When E.T. got sick, the dude was reduced to a blubbering mess. I was hooked! A great film creates a strong emotional [connection] with the audience. We care about the characters and feel they have a life outside the movie.
CP: What sparked your love for movies?
NS: My mum jokes that she stuck me in front of the telly watching films because it was cheaper than a babysitter. I soaked up all the Hollywood classics, everything from Busby Berkeley to Alfred Hitchcock. That was a spark. The Star Wars novelization had glossy pages in the middle with behind-the-scenes shots that made me realize that George Lucas had come up with an idea, filmed it, and shared it with millions. That was a powerful realization and I read that book to tatters.
CP: Did you write the film with budget limitations in mind?
NS: I always had the budget in mind but I didn't let it stop me from telling an exciting story. If anything the lack of budget made me focus more on characterization instead of just a bunch of explosions. Local generosity gave us a huge in-kind budget — hell, we have the Yorktown as a setting, Force Protection vehicles, a submarine, a six-figure custom muscle car for a chase sequence, aircraft... it was a director's dream come true.
CP: Any particular magical moments that you recall from the shoot?
NS: We shot at the Vietnam Support Base at sundown, the sky was a blood orange color and a plane flew low overhead. I got what I wanted in one take. That was a good day.
CP: Did making the film ever feel like it was taking a psychological toll?
NS: There are so many times where my co-producer Trevor Erickson and I could have given up; for an example, one of our actors decided to move to L.A. halfway through shooting and we had to rethink the edit. The filming took its toll on my personal life, I was raising my son at the same time and I was always torn between spending time with him and trying to make him proud by getting the project out. I think a lot of parents face similar dilemmas.
CP: How did Maverick Entertainment come to acquire the film?
NS: Last year I went to a film expo where a couple of my shorts were being shown. I had two goals there — to get those films on the big screen as a thank you to my cast and crew, and to put a copy of Cold Soldiers in the hands of a distributor. Maverick dug the film and they have been amazing, even footing the bill for some music clearance costs when they didn't have to. How many big fancy distributors do sweet things like that?
CP: Have you watched Cold Soldiers with an audience?
NS: We screened a work print in Charleston and submitted it to some festivals, where it was well received. Trevor has done a lot of work on it since then. I was overjoyed to watch it with an audience. It always feels weird, almost out-of-body because I'm gauging how well things work for audiences, but that experience was magical because of all the Lowcountry connections.
CP: How does it feel to have it finished and ready for the world to see?
NS: Damn it feels good! Now I can get on with the next one.