What would you do if you lost your job in one fell swoop? Many Americans know the situation well, suddenly gathering up the professional pieces despite their plans and forced to make new ones. Based on a memoir of the same name, the new film by Ian and Eshom Nelms, ‘Waffle Street,’ looks at one such circumstance, that of former hedge fund VP James Adams (played by James Lafferty of ‘One Tree Hill’) who finds himself unemployed and taking a job waiting tables at the waffle shop “Papa’s.” Ambitious in turning his new situation into a goal ladder for he and his wife Becky (Julie Gonzalo), Jimmy battles humbling challenges that build his character. With his grill chef mentor of sorts, Edward Collins (Danny Glover), Jimmy gains a new sense of value and perspective on what true hard work and starting over can bring. The film has gone on to win for Best Narrative Feature Film at the Hollywood Film Festival and the Inaugural Carpe Diem Award (in honor of longtime festival friend Vincent “Jay” Andretta III) at the Woodstock Film Festival this year. It also screened to a sold out 1100 person audience at the Tallgrass Film Festival and is screening at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, the Ojai Film Festival in California, and numerous others to come.
‘Waffle Street’ takes life but the reigns and earnestly translates a relatable American experience onto the screen. The Nelms brothers took the time to tell Examiner how their careers budded, how this film evolved, and the power of a waffle:
How did your filmmaking partnership come about?
Our parents preferred rural living to busy city streets. This left us with a choice: we could either get along as siblings or be the two loneliest kids in Woodlake, CA. Choosing the first, we soon discovered a shared affection for movies fueled by our mother’s subscription to the ‘Clint Eastwood Collection.’ Although we didn’t realize the significance at the time, our first filmmaking endeavor happened at a young age (somewhere around the ages of eight and nine). Ian decided to “make a movie” for his school talent fair. His vision took over as he storyboarded, wrote, and directed this short, aptly titled ‘The Sunday Horseman.’ Our beloved father made it possible by acting as both cinematographer and assistant director. Eshom and a pony named “Baby” were cast as “The Sunday Horseman” and his mighty steed. The film was rewarded with a blue ribbon.
It wasn’t until summer of 2002 that we experienced the light bulb moment. Both of us had come home for college break and neither was too thrilled about our current life trajectories. Eshom had just purchased a new Mac computer with the ability to edit footage from our mother’s camcorder. With these tools at our disposal, we struck upon the idea to make our second short film. It was a horror spoof with a title too vulgar to mention, but the results so encouraged us that we drove to a friend’s house at 3am to show him and his wife. Their reactions and laughs were so intoxicating we couldn’t wait to make more. Oblivious of the universe’s plan, we had unknowingly gathered the necessary toolsets to make films. The skills were raw but the results were enough. We were hooked and have been steadfast in our cinematic endeavors ever since.
Being that ‘Waffle Street’ is based on a memoir, how challenging was it to keep true to the story?
A shockingly high percentage comes from the book. Upon reading the memoir, we both agreed that the adaptation should closely align with the source material. James Adams wrote a great memoir filled with wonderful anecdotes and gentle insight. The story celebrated a diverse swath of humanity with all their myriad of idiosyncrasies and foibles. We and co-writer Autumn McAplin invented some plot devices to drive the story, but it was critical those manipulations felt organic to the characters and story.
How did you find your wonderful cast?
A film lives or dies by its cast and we were so very fortunate with ours. Getting Danny Glover on board was a very traditional process. We submitted the script to his agent, they liked it and passed it to Danny. To our absolute delight he came on board and devoured the role of Edward. The ‘Lethal Weapon’ series and ‘Predator 2’ are some of our favorite films, so you can imagine our delight in getting to work with the legend himself. We’ve had the good fortune to work with James Lafferty on two films now. In our previous collaboration ‘Lost on Purpose,’ James was a true pro. Not only is the man a premier talent, but he never complains and soldiers through it all. He’s that rare combination of talent and fortitude.
Pairing James with Julie Gonzalo (who plays wife, Becky) was wonderful to behold. The two had instant chemistry, which is fortunate because they “landed hot” (having no time for rehearsal). Surrounding these leads was a large ensemble cast that required a deep talent pool. Dale Dickey had worked with us on ‘Lost on Purpose,’ and did us the great honor of brilliantly portraying the role of “Crazy Kathy.” Marshal Bell, William Knight, Ernie Lively and a talented group of Utah based actors filled out the remaining cast.
America has been struggling with a recession. Are there any personal connections that made this story important for you both to tell?
Certainly other countries and demographics will relate to the film’s characters and story elements, but at its core ‘Waffle Street’ is an American story. There are several aspects that attracted us to the material. There’s the American zeitgeist element; our culture admires self-made people and our own family descends from a long line of small business owners. Our grandfather owned his own trucking business until the day he died. Our father had a photography studio for over 20 years. He put us to work at an early age in the printing lab and during photo shoots. I don’t know many thirteen and fourteen year olds who have been to over a hundred weddings, but we had. We saw first hand what it took to run a small business, and the toll it can take on a family. It’s a hard road and the return on investment can often be less than many perceive.
And there’s the social economic interplay between the characters. James loses his high paying job, and takes what he believes to be an “easier” position in the restaurant. He’s quickly humbled through his incompetence, thus learning humility and discovering his purpose. There are a lot of elements attempting to fracture us as a nation. We are not interested in living in a divided country. We believe our nation is great because of its diversity, its values, and the opportunities it gives hard-working people to achieve their dreams.
Are there other filmmakers or films that have inspired you as far as looking at financial rehabilitation or any other themes for that matter?
There have been several great films on the financial collapse and the only thing we strived to do was not attempt to emulate them. No way were we going to usurp Scorsese’s portrait of greed and excess in ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street,’ or match the information dispensed in a documentary like ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.’ This story was more about James Adams’ moral compass. This was a story about redemption, rehabilitation and rebirth, and how we, as a nation, can come out of this mess a better and more informed population.
You’ve been making a name for the film in the festival circuit. How have you been enjoying it and where do you hope the film will go from here?
Film Festivals are a wonderful opportunity to see the public respond to your work. Prizes are fun and we’ve had the good fortune of stealing a few along the way, but the real reward comes in seeing a crowd of 1100 people genuinely responding to your film. It happened at the Tallgrass Film Festival this year, and it’s something we wish everyone could experience. After the festivals comes distribution. What that ultimately looks like has yet to be determined, but from the enthusiastic responses we’ve seen across the country, all of us at team Waffle are excited.
Do either of you have any projects in the works you’re able to hint at?
Absolutely. We have a few irons in the oven, but the one we can talk about is ‘Small Town Crime.’ It’s a crime thriller with Brad Johnson and John J. Kelly from team ‘Waffle Street’ producing. We have financing and we’re rounding up a cast now. It’s early in the process but some premier talent has already joined us: Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer is acting and executive producing. James Lafferty of ‘Waffle Street’ and Independent Spirit Award Winner, Dale Dickey, have also come on to play a role.
Is there a passion project you’d like to make in the future?
Every film has to be a passion project. The process of putting these stories on screen demands too much to be otherwise. That being said, there are several bigger projects we look forward to making. Sadly, the nature of the business, forces us to keep the premise and story lines under our hats for now.
How would you define success?
For us, getting to do what we love for a living is about as close to nirvana as one can get. Too many people have to slog their way through careers they hate. That’s a tough way to live no matter how great the financial rewards.
Favorite item on Papa’s menu?
It never made the menu, but having an endless supply of waffles can provoke real creativity. During a scene, James Lafferty is dressing a waffle at the prep station. There were traditional toppings (strawberries, walnuts, whip cream, etc.) and non-traditional toppings (instant coffee) in front of him. In the moment, James decided to use the instant coffee as a base layer on the waffle. It was just something he did and it looked good on camera so what the heck if it was a little odd. At least that’s what we all thought until we tried it! It was delicious and provided just the right kick for us caffeine addicts. James had invented the Redbull of waffles and we’re honored to have captured that moment live on screen.
You can check for ‘Waffle Street’ updates on Twitter (@WaffleStMovie) or Facebook.