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COLLEGE ISSUE: Ahead of the curve
SCAD student set to direct feature film while still in school

Most college students wait until graduation to make that first big leap into their real world careers. Not Adam Nelson.

The SCAD sophomore is already waist–deep in his first feature film project, courting real money from investors and scouting countryside locations. So much for the safe cloister of academia.

“I realized early on that I don’t need to wait for graduation to get going,” says 20 year–old Nelson. “I starting writing the script a year ago as a freshman.”

While the role of first director is new to the rising filmmaker, his film, Finders, tracks into familiar territory. Opening in the 1970s with three troublemaker boys who find the long–abandoned belongings of an American Jewish family, the story explores themes of discrimination, history and growing up. Nelson classifies himself as a “nostalgic type” for the movies of his youth, and he characterizes Finders as a coming–of–age dramedy in the vein of '80s classics Stand By Me and The Goonies.

“This is about finding treasures, it has an adventurous feel to it,” he says. “These kids are funny and mean to each other, and together they discover something a little dark and horrifying.”

The Cleveland native grew up in front of the camera, appearing in commercials and indie films (he had a small part in 2006’s The Oh in Ohio, starring Parker Posey and Paul Rudd.) He decided to transition to writing and directing in high school, and his parents supported the decision to attend film school at SCAD rather than Los Angeles. He’s been pleased to find such a cooperative filmmaking community in Savannah.

“It’s so scenic and cinematic here, plus there’s great tax incentives in Georgia,” says Nelson.

Though he ultimately wants to direct studio films, he’s been drawn to independent films for years.

“I’m as interested in the filmmakers as I am in the story they’re telling,” he says. “I like to see what their path was to production, how they got picked up and got bigger distribution. Independent films can become very successful. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.”

Nelson’s partner on the Finders project, Matthew Brower of Hey Now! Productions, has been handling much of the logistics and fundraising for the film. Both Nelson and Brower are the grandchildren on Holocaust survivors, a driving element of their creative friendship. Still based in Cleveland, Brower has coordinated an advisory board that includes Partridge Family actor and 1970s icon David Cassidy, whose son, Beau, has been tapped for a role.

Brower has also helped Nelson reach out to Jewish organizations like the American National Jewish Archives and Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. The two young men met with members of Savannah’s Jewish Educational Alliance last month, hoping to garner not only financial support for the production but also a team of community advocates who might help carpool to locations or provide homecooked meals for the cast.

“I was impressed with their presentation,” reports Lisa Kaminsky, who attended the meeting along with about a dozen others, many of whom have ties to the Holocaust themselves.

“Everyone gets excited when a movie is being filmed in Savannah, and we related to the personal element in this story.”

While Nelson acknowledges that Finders isn’t a “Jewish film” per se, its subject matter remains relevant.

“This form of anti–Semitism and bigotry has yet to be explored in narrative filmmaking, the everyday exclusion of Jews in the early 20th century,” he explains. “I’m hoping this story can be a way to temper hate and ignorance in my own generation.”

The young director expects the month–long filming schedule to start this winter and has already nailed down a few of the film’s rural locations in Pembroke and Register, GA. He and Brower have brought local filmmaker Jody Scheisser on board as co–producer, and casting will involve a mix of local talent and some up–and–coming names that can’t be shared publically until contracts are signed.

But classes at SCAD begin this week, and Nelson has a full schedule. How will this young director handle the production of a full–length movie and still balance his schoolwork?

“I’ll take the next quarter off and make it up next summer,” promises Nelson. “Right now I’m just itching to move on to the next stage.”

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