Ian and Eshom Nelms: From Ribs to Riches

On our most recent podcast we were honored to host the Nelms Brothers and talk about their most recent film Fatman 2020 along with their previous work.  We learned a lot about these brothers including their love of film along with their brotherly love. Two things we definitely have in common.

When asked about their collaborations they were quick to heap praise on each other and this was genuine. They are also quick to include the rest of their crew of collaborators both behind and in front of the camera for their current success.

Their path to success is not typical of most film makers. Usually, we hear about the time they spent in film school and how certain instructors inspired them along the way. They were inspired by films and film makers and the Nelms brothers paved their own way to making movies.

 The Beginning 

So, their story goes Eshom was watching a couple of films back-to-back one night on cable (while in Art school in Kansas City) only to find out the next day while talking to brother Ian he had actually watched the same two movies the night before while back in California Coincidence or fate? Either way a lightbulb went off about their future. 

While talking about this experience they made a decision to change the trajectory of their lives and pursue a career together in film. Eshom told Ian when he returns back from Kansas City that summer, they need to talk about becoming film makers. 

Their Dad, a career photographer, use to take the brothers along on photo shoots (lots of weddings) and not to surprising they were learning important skills needed to become film makers.  A good photographer uses pictures to tell a story. Both photos and film tell stories. The difference is with photos people fill in the story in their minds while film provides the details for us. 

The brothers used the family movie camera to shoot little skits and story’s and hence a new career was born.  Along with support from friends and family, the duo decided to take a trip to the place known for making movies only a few hours from where they grew up and headed south a few hours to Los Angeles. 

Ignorance can be bliss

The next part of their story is our favorite proving sometimes being in the know isn’t always best. The brothers wrote a query letter, which is often a one-page sales pitch to agents giving them an idea of a project they are working on with some biographical information. The purpose being to get whoever they present it to excited about their project. 

Not knowing any better the Nelms brothers headed to the well-known Gersh Agency in Beverly Hills a couple days before Christmas, as Ian points out sarcastically, “like most people do”. They discovered the place to be empty, like most companies on early vacation, but this was actually a positive.  Most times they would not have made their way inside the door without being thrown out by security.  They wondered the halls calling out for anyone and much to their surprise they were greeted by some polite workers, wondering what these two kids were doing in the building, but a couple actually talked with them probably trying to just get them out the door.

Not knowing any better the Nelms found this venture encouraging despite not hearing back from anyone and made the move to L.A. renting an apartment off of Hollywood and Yuka ready to start filming the next day, we’ll maybe not the next day. Instead, Ian worked at a rib joint and Eshom got a job at a recently opened theater. 

Now what?

The brothers find themselves where they needed to be, but what was their next step? They visited a couple of film schools which provided more frustration than inspiration because you don’t just start filming movies. You read books, go to classes and when you finally become a senior you get to use a camera and maybe film a one-minute scene?  Not for these brothers. They realized something too many people fail to realize. They had the skills they needed already they just needed a way to do it. 

The brothers began writing and one of those things they had written was the story of Fatman, but as good as we now know it was people tended to look at them sideways as they tried to explain what the movie was all about. At this point they had at least 3 screen plays written, but no real way to film them.

This is when Eshom got a big break! No, he did not meet a film producer, and no one had called back about their query letter. Like lots of people every day in the busy streets of Los Angeles Esh (Ian and friends nickname for him) got rear ended in busy traffic. Finally, a true filmmakers break!

Instead of repairing his beloved 1984 Volkswagen Esh took his insurance claim and bought a state-of-the-art Panasonic DVX pro camera. You can always fix the car later, right? This indeed turned out to be the big break. Ian came up with a script they could shoot in about a week which became 2004’s Squirrel trap

Grinders got to Grind

The next step for the Nelms Brothers was something else very relatable, but not something everyone is willing to do. Good old fashion hard work or as the brothers call it “grinding”. Having a good work ethic is something any successful person must possess. This was something else we could relate to and like the Nelms brothers we had this same ethic and it usually comes from your parents.  Our parents worked hard as did the Nelms Brothers and you learn that’s how you do it. No real secrets here if you want to be successful you have to “grind” and grind hard. Just as important love what it is you are grinding on.

In the 16 years since the fateful day when Eshom had his Volkswagen rear ended to this day at the end of 2020 the Nelms brothers have grinded out approximately 15 films. Roughly a film every year or a light schedule for a couple of grinders.

The Films

We will cover their last 4 films, since anyone can pretty easily find them on Amazon Prime or other streaming service of their choice. We didn’t have enough time to talk with the brothers about all their films and barely scratched the surface on the first three since our goal was to cover 2020’s Fatman.

2013 saw the release of Lost on Purpose. The movie focuses on a group of guys working on a dairy farm for a demanding boss played by Jane Kaczmarek (Ms. Liz). Despite her demanding ways there’s a real love between the guys and Ms. Liz as she struggles with health problems not to mention her business struggles.

There’s also a focus on Randel and Rooker Lee, which I had to ask the brothers how much of their selves were in these two characters. As it turns out quite a bit. They call this film their American Graffiti and a love letter to their hometown as many of the locations and characters are drawn from their real lives.

The movie is a snapshot in the lives of this group of guys and their relationship with each other and Ms. Liz which comes to an abrupt end when Ms. Liz is a bit too stubborn to follow Doctors orders which cuts her life short and brings to an end this moment in time for the group and two brothers. 

Winner of the ReelHeART International Film Festival 2013 Feature Film category and a nominee for Best Feature Film at the Hollywood Film Awards this is a great introduction to the brother themselves and a nice introduction to where the Nelms Brothers came from.

2015’s Waffle Street is based on a true story about Jimmy Adams played by frequent collaborator James Lafferty who finds himself the fall guy when he gets fired by a Big Mortgage Fund after he’s encouraged to do some creative financing to make the other members of the firm rich.

After a difficult job search Jimmy takes a position at a local Chicken and Waffle restaurant. He becomes friends with the grill man an Ex-convict played by Danny Glover who teaches Jimmy some hard lessons of life and finance. Based on a book of the same name this rags to riches story won the Hollywood Award Winner Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film and the Audience Award also for best Narrative Film.

Small Town Crime is a 2017 crime thriller about an alcoholic ex-cop Mike Kendall who comes across a body by the side of the road and tries to come to the rescue with hopes of getting himself back on the force. Octavia Spencer plays Mikes adopted sister and can’t forgive him when he gets her husband (Anthony Anderson) involved in a dangerous situation with some big-time criminals. 

This is a great film that really shows off the Nelms Brothers talent of shock and awe and hooks viewers early and the worse it gets the more entertaining it becomes. It’s likely this film was a great showcase for the Nelms to get Fatman made. You can grab Small Town Crime at Amazon and it’s full of extra’s including two audio commentaries where you can hear the brothers and other members of the team tell stories about the shoot.

The Next Level

Fatman is one of the best films of 2020.  Not just one of the best Christmas films, but best films in a difficult year at the box office. The story of a not so jolly Santa Claus who finds the government has cut his pay based on a lower production of toys. 

Although Santa argues he cannot control kids from being naughty or nice, they point out his contract states his pay is based on output. They do offer Santa an opportunity to make up his losses by putting his elves to work on government contracts. Santa needing to provide and pay the bills reluctantly agrees to the deal.

At the same time Billy (Chance Hurstfield) after receiving a lump of coal hires a sadistic hit man (Walton Goggins) to hunt down and kill Santa Claus played brilliantly by Mel Gibson.

To really get the most out of Fatman it requires more than one viewing.  If you watch our podcast about the movie, we both liked the film and recommended watching, but we made several caveats about the violence in the movie. After multiple viewings and taking in the great writing and acting we both put it on our best of the year list. And the violence that shocks you after the first viewing takes a back seat to the acting and ingenious writing/directing.

All the actors Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Chance Hurstfield play the movie straight up.  No winks to the audience or comedic twists, just straight-ahead good acting. This is one of the keys that make the movie so much fun.  Coming soon to blu ray Jan 26th, 2021 make sure you pick up a copy so you can enjoy a commentary with the Nelms Brothers, Mel Gibson, Michelle Lang, and Johnny Derango. Deleted scenes, and storyboard to screen comparisons are also fun to check out.

The Best is Yet to Come

As we bring this longest blog to an end, we can’t help but think of all the things we left out. Having watched the last four Nelms Brothers films and getting the privilege of talking to them, if only for an hour (they promised us an hour and we used every minute), we are willing to make a few big predictions.

First, the Nelms Brothers are the real deal.  These two film makers have only just begun to hit their stride. Small Town Crime was a great crime drama that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who loves the genre.

Second, Fatman is a unique once in a decade film with nods to other great films, but very much an animal all its own. It’s already on our annual list of great Christmas movies, but it’s a great film not just a great Christmas film. If there is a more original screenplay this year we missed it.

Third, when Eshom and Ian take the stage to win their first Academy Award people are going to call them a great overnight success. So, let’s end that here and now. These brothers have been making movies for 15 years already and if they win an Oscar next year, they still won’t be an overnight success. 

Finally, we hope they remember “Oh Brother” predicted this in December 2020 and we plan on knocking on their doors again in the future for another interview. Hopefully we will get by the security. From Brothers to Brothers and Grinders to Grinders we look forward to the future success of the Nelms Brothers!

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