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Artist profile: Writer-director-producer Nathan Scoggins

Nathan Scoggins wears a lot of hats. As an entertainment industry professional, he wears the hats of writer-director-producer. Then there are the hats of husband, father of three, worship leader, brother, friend, teacher, and mentor. This either makes him an extremely balanced individual, a man with boundless energy, a person with good time-management skills, or perhaps a combination of all three.

The director with his DP setting up a shot
The director with his DP setting up a shot
Nathan Scoggins (used with permission)
The writer-director-producer, making his career 10 pages at a time.
Nathan Scoggins (used with permission)

What is clear is that Nathan derives great pleasure from wearing all of these hats—the word “fun” came up quite often in our forty-five minute conversation. The producer of the 2012 "Crash the Superbowl"-winning commercial Fashionista Daddy claims he is not a fashionista; but like a fashion maven, he struts his creative couture with pride and confidence while on the stage, slips offstage to make a quick change, then comes back to vogue the next ensemble on the runway of his life.

“I like being able to add value to a team and help round things out. Sometimes it's writing, sometimes it's producing, sometimes it's directing.

“I think in this business you have to be able to multitask. Creativity is not a service industry, but as Christians we need to be servants. Being able to be creatively engaged is good. So I've enjoyed when I directed, I enjoy being able to crack the story. Each project kind of tells you what it needs, and then you figure out how best you can meet the need.”

Meeting the need of co-writing The Perfect Summer in 10 days was a fun and exciting challenge that Nathan rose to with his usual aplomb.

“It came about pretty quickly, and I tend to get excited about the things that happen very quickly. Literally the day it happened, December 20, 2012, Gary Wheeler (co-writer and director) called me and said, ‘I have a shoot, I have a start date, and I have green light from the network, I have a log line, and I need a script in 10 days.’

“It was one of those serendipitous things.”

Nathan describes The Perfect Summer as “a coming-of-age film with some faith-based elements.” The drama centers on 17-year-old Jake (Adam Horner), who moves with his mother Alyssa (Soap star Sydney Penny) from Chicago to a small coastal town after the death of Jake’s father. The two move in with Alyssa’s father and Jake’s grandfather Lou (Eric Roberts), with whom Alyssa has mostly been estranged. The disengaged Jake struggles over the death of his own father and being uprooted from the only home he has ever known, so Lou decides to teach Jake how to surf in order to forge a connection. Jake not only grows into a new relationship with his grandfather, but with a young, local girl named Kayla (Katie Garfield) who encourages Jake to enter a surfing competition.

Jake still clings to his past life, even though the storms of life have torn that away, and Lou firmly coaxes him to try something different—to engage in the life before him, even if it is not the life he would have chosen. The story is reminiscent of Jesus commanding Peter to come out of the boat and walk on water, and Peter’s attitude was sometimes akin to a 17-year-old Jake’s.

“Where I first connected with the idea, and what is the theme of the movie, is the idea of having to take risks. You can't find what you're looking for sitting on the beach,” Nathan said.

“We are always being invited to step out of the boat and step into new things—that is what resonated with me and connected with me. I appreciated that Gary was able to massage the material in a way that the networks were able to get behind it. But I'm grateful that the underlying theme of the film remained the same from concept to execution.”

The film premiered on UP-TV in July of 2013—seven months after the December 2012 conversation, and is now available on DVD. In an industry where development deals can take years, and films can be put in the can only to sit on a shelf without distribution, having a film go from the page to the screen so quickly is quite a coup.

“Getting things made is a happy surprise,” Nathan said. “I had a hole in my schedule. I was going to be on vacation when they needed pages. I wrote a surfing movie literally in the snows of Wenatchee, Washington. I didn't know anything about surfing, so I was doing research about surfing in the snow. The chance to write a movie in that setting, it was kind of a lot of fun. Gary took it and added a little bit to it, so it was just kind of seamless.”

From the outside looking in, Nathan’s career so far appears seamless too, but this belies a lifetime of training and hard work starting at a young age. He has been writing since he was seven years old, was involved in a prestigious children’s theater company, writing and directing stage plays in high school. Nathan studied English and Film at Wesleyan University, but aside from a brief foray into campus ministry, the trajectory toward a career in film was always set. “The long-range goal was always to move to L.A. and see if I could do it.”

This commitment, clear focus, years of training, and God’s magnificent grace allows Nathan to accomplish what he sets out to do. His script The Least of These was a quarter-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriting, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Chesterfield Fellowship, co-sponsored by Paramount. The story of an African-American priest with a troubled past who uncovers a murder at the Catholic boarding school where he has been placed caught the eye of actor Isaiah Washington, who was fresh off his role in the television series Grey’s Anatomy. In 2008, Nathan directed Washington in The Least of These, which aired on the Starz network in 2009, and was released for DVD distribution by Vivendi Universal through Code Black Entertainment in August of 2011.

“We were kind of crazy fortunate to have Isaiah as our creative quarterback on this. It allowed the space for him to do what he loved to do, and because he was involved, we were able to surround him with some real talent.”

That talent included some of the A-list of veteran actors: Robert Loggia, Bob Gunton, and John Billingsley.

“I was thankful to be on the receiving end of these men's wisdom. It helped us to find some beautiful, theatrical moments. There were a lot of happy accidents on that set, but it came about because of so many professional, creative people who were willing to share their gifts and talents. I was fortunate to be able to cut my teeth directing that kind of experience. To be honest, it set the bar for me to have an expectation of what directing should be.”

That high bar is evident in the projects he has been attached to since. These include The Perfect Summer (co-writer), three Doritos “Crash the SuperBowl” commercials (producer), The Ride (co-writer), and Redline (producer).

The projects that have rendered the highest buzz quotient so far are his involvement in the Doritos commercials. Casket (2010), and Sling Baby (2011), were directed by his friend, writer-director Kevin T. Willson. Sling Baby won the 2011 “Crash” prize of $1 million dollars, plus the privilege of airing before 100 million Superbowl viewers nationwide.

“I love creating with teams, I guess because I'm aware of my own blind spots creatively, and Kevin steered the ship, but he also created a great sense of ownership.”

For 2012’s “Crash” contest, Nathan produced and was one of the stars (along with young daughter JJ) of the commercial Fashionista Daddy, with Mark Frieburger at the director’s helm and a whole new creative team. “It was fun coming up with a different group of creatives and seeing what came about, and to team with a group of guys who were looking to show their work in a larger way. There was a tremendous sense of collaboration and community. It was an easy shoot, it was a fun shoot, and the fact that it is still on the air is a testament to that.”

Fashionista Daddy also took home the “Crash the SuperBowl” prize that year, along with garnering appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and CNN.

“That's what I enjoy most, being able to work alongside others and have that sense of shared ownership, shared responsibility, and shared fun.

“When it aired, it was such a sense of relief, and validation, and accomplishment—to have 100 million people watching something you make is quite huge.”

While not all of Nathan’s creative ventures are faith-based, his life of faith undergirds his work at all times. “Film is not a visual medium, film is an emotional medium. Great film and great TV make us feel something. A lot of the time, especially people who are trying to write from a faith perspective or with a faith element, they need to learn that you don't lead with the message, you lead with the heart. I believe it was Jeremiah that said prophets turn up the ground of people's hearts. That's also what great storytellers do; and we can either do that in a way that is destructive or constructive.

“A good friend, screenwriter Chris Riley says, ‘Good art should comfort the troubled and trouble the comforted.’ That's the great authors of faith—C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor—they were troubling and comforting all at the same time. That's what great storytellers of faith should do.”

But for the creative person who is also a person of faith, the macro vision always involves the micro steps. The daily grind of not only doing what’s in front of you, but also focusing on contributing value and weight to those steps. Such as the daily prayer and devotion that lead to the miracle moments and spiritual breakthroughs. Nathan understands that the current projects, as well as the future ones, start with a single goal of butt to chair, hands to keyboard, and pages produced.

“10 years ago when Kate (Mrs. Scoggins) and I were first starting out, and Kate said ‘I need you to set your goals and hit them every day, and that will give me comfort as a wife.’ So my goal is 10 pages every day. That's kind of how I approach every day, 10 pages at a time.”