For a lot of people who work in film, watching movies came first. I just found joy in playing with a camera.
As the son of a journalist, storytelling was always a massive part of each day for me. My father never pushed me to do what he did, in fact he seemed to support whichever route I was going to take in life. He did tell me stories, though, and I did watch him at work. In those moments I found lessons, laughter, sadness, and inspiration. In his stories I found meaning.
When I was 8 years old, I began playing with my family’s Hi-8 video camera. At first I'd just go out and shoot, but after a bit I started to get the urge to set up a story. The first was a scene I constructed with Hot Wheels cars. I remember it being important to me to grab a shot of a truck driving straight towards the lens. So I did it, and shattered the lens. The camera obliterated, I waited till Christmas of the next year and asked for my own.
That opened up a new possibility- to shoot whenever and whatever. Enlisting friends when I could- but always my younger sister- I began to tell stories on video. Production scope was no obstacle; an 8 or 9 year old playing the President of the United States was a casting choice I was willing to make, among many others. We created Nicco News- a group of friends who would follow fake news stories around our neighborhood, and we were always the first on the scene.
With all these efforts came a distinct new want- to stitch scenes together through cuts. I began doing so in the only way I knew how- shoot till we messed up, pause, rewind, pick up where we left off. When it was all finished, I’d plug the camera into a TV and play it for whoever was willing to watch.
When I turned 11, I hatched my first plan to try and turn my hobby into something more. I got the phone number for the owner of the local TV station in my hometown of Park City, UT- and gave him a call saying I wanted a job at the station. Mr. Jones said, “Dude, you’re 11. That'd be illegal.” I told him that I’d be an unpaid intern, and to kick me out if I got in the way. He pondered it for a day or two, and then gave me a shot as the intern for the Mountain Morning News.
For the next couple years, I would wake up just before 5am, ride my bike down to PCTV, and start the show at 6. When we wrapped, I would bike over to middle school. Each morning in the control room, learning from the crew, I found myself exactly where I wanted to be. When I was 12, I embarked on creating my first short documentary, for a competition held by the C-Span network. In the planning stages, my dad was hands-off, telling me to simply remember that the best story might be right in front of me.
When I finally decided to shoot and write a story on the illegal Mexican workforce that powers Park City, my dad turned up the heat on challenging me. Writing the script, narrating the story and finding the through-line in all the interviews was daunting at my age, and at times that was painful. Being a proud and stubborn kid was especially hard, because a true pro was there to catch me every time my writing meandered.
After three months of work, my mom and dad took me to send off An American Dream. Later that year, C-Span called saying that they had chosen it as their Grand-Prize winner, best overall in the nation. Local television, radio and magazines did stories about it- and I felt right at home telling these folks why I made the movie.
One day, as I was walking our dog, a beat-up company cargo van pulled to the side of the road. A Mexican dude leaned out the window and said, “are you Nicco?” I hesitated, then told him I was. He said, “I just wanted to thank you for the things you’ve said about my people on TV.” As he drove off, I realized that making movies was the only thing I ever wanted to do for work. Film school was where I wanted to go.
In sophomore year of high school, I sent An American Dream to Spike Lee. The next year he saw it, and invited me to come intern in Brooklyn for the summer. During my senior year of high school, I made a documentary in Guatemala called Anything but Kings. It tells the story of one American fighting to protect the children of the indigenous Mayan population, who are now the lowest on the financial food chain there.
I sent the film to NYU Tisch and was accepted for directing. Realizing that a film degree was not a professional requirement, I took the time to truly get lost in reading scripts, watching movies and asking questions. I was determined to figure out fiction filmmaking- what I loved, what I hated and what I intended to make. During those first couple years I directed another short documentary, and two short films.
In order to stay on set, I began working in Lighting Design, serving on student film crews as a Gaffer. I didn’t take any classes on it, but taught myself by essentially doing what I later realized was the Directors’ job - staring at hundreds of existing film scenes, mixing and matching until I felt I’d found the right tone for each narrative. Life on set allowed me to sharpen my technical eye, put my working stamina to the test, but most importantly watch other directors rise or fall. It also opened the door to the collaborators that I’d always dreamt of having.
When junior year of film school rolled around and it came time to start writing my thesis script, I had longstanding relationships with artists who knew what story I was going to tell. After seeing how I work on set and why I spend my days there, these folks believed enough to donate their time and collaborate with me. HOMEWARD became my first feature as a writer/director, the largest scope I’ve ever been at the head of.
Lighting Design became my livelihood out of college, working mostly on commercial projects. On set, I was able to preserve that time working with large clients, spending long days preparing to head up commercials myself.
I’ve now made the jump into commercial directing and producing with QP, as I work on the screenplay for my next narrative feature.