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Todd Nelson – Class of 1980
Support of family and community helps 1980 Grad succeed in the film industry.
By Kristine Jacobson
“You can take the guy out of Nebraska, but can’t take the Nebraska out of the guy.” Those are the words of 1980 Holdrege graduate Todd Nelson who moved to the west coast after graduating from college to pursue a career in the film industry.
Nelson has appeared in a movie, worked behind the scenes on famous shows like “Golden Girls,” produced award-winning documentaries, started his own film production company and worked as a special projects executive for Disney.
He is well-known for starting The Nebraska Coast Connection, which is a social and networking group of Nebraska natives in the entertainment industry in California.
“Funny that I came all the way out here to the coast and still had to bring some hometown Nebraska with me,” Nelson said. He started the group 23 years ago and is proud that it “continues to give back to people starting out in the entertainment business and provides us all out here a regular dose of fellow Nebraskans.”They call it their “Home Sweet Home in Hollywood.”
Nelson’s Hollywood career started with a supporting cast of family and friends in Holdrege. “Everyone in my family was completely supportive of this kid who always wanted to ‘put on a show,’ and no way would I be doing what I do today without their constant encouragement,” Nelson said.
His parents, Bill and Patty Nelson, owned Patty’s Hallmark in downtown Holdrege. Prior to that, his father was vice president at First Security Bank, and his mother was a surgical nurse.
Nelson recalls his father helping him make a short animated film with army men and a toy fire truck when he was only 3 or 4 years old. “I was hooked and often made movies with his 8mm film camera, or put on backyard carnivals or puppet shows,” Nelson said. “My family got used to me charging admission for shows in the basement at every opportunity.”
When Nelson was 12, he cast his entire extended family in his version of “Superman.” His dad played the leading actor, and his mom helped with costume design, including sewing blue tights and a cape with a big ‘S’ emblem. “My dad was a great sport to do this, but we had to shoot his scenes coming out of the phone booth early in the morning so no one would see him in such a get-up,” Nelson recalled.
In addition to his family, Nelson said his small-town upbringing and community support helped him succeed. “Growing up in a small town gave me a sense that I could handle anything,” he said. “In those days, us kids just rode our bikes all over town, played (or in my case, put on plays), showed up for dinner when it got dark, and our parents trusted us to make good decisions and to look after each other. Starting life that way is very freeing and builds both confidence and character.
“I’m very grateful that I can find a way to make a good living doing basically what I discovered I love to do most – make-believe — as a kid in Holdrege.”
High School Years
In high school, Nelson continued to refine his passion and enjoyed being drum major of the band (which won a gold medal in an international competition in Hawaii), editor of the yearbook and school newspaper, president of the Thespians theater club, acting in the fall play, and participating in district and state speech and drama competitions and other local plays.
For two summers in high school, he and fellow Thespians created a traveling lunch theater for elementary school kids called The Peanut Butter Theater. “We produced the shows, built the sets and costumes, did our own advertising, even made sack lunches for the children,” Nelson said. “There’s nothing like the mesmerizing attention of kids experiencing the magic of live theatre for the first time.”
Then, he and his cousin, Craig Halvorson, performed in magic shows around the Midwest with their act called, The Magicteers. The show earned a spot on NTV for a few years. “We had live doves, elaborate illusions that we built ourselves (Sawing-in Half, Metamorphosis), and white disco suits like from Saturday Night Fever,” Nelson said. “I definitely honed my skills in producing and directing and performing in those hundreds of live performances and dozens of TV shows, and that gave me a huge head start at UNL and later in Hollywood.”
Nelson said HHS journalism teacher Shirley Sandfort and band teacher Randy Nelson inspired him during his high school days, and he is grateful to community member Ellen Misko for her encouragement in his film career. “She was one of the leading reasons Holdrege had first class entertainment like the Community Concerts, theatre, and arts events,” he said.
He often visited her house down the street after school for lessons on poetry, drama, writing, and a “view of the wider world.” “She cast me in my first play when I was five, and we often performed together in Prairie Players productions, even after I moved away,” Nelson said. “She was a class act, and a great support to a kid with bigger aspirations than a small town offered.”
Nelson attended college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, majoring in theatre and broadcast journalism. While at UNL, he performed in stage productions and began producing shows for NETV. He earned money to pay for college with a job as a TV news reporter for KETV’s Lincoln bureau.
During his junior year in college, Nelson earned a spot in the movie “Terms of Endearment,” which was being filmed in Lincoln at the time.
“I heard Director James Brooks was looking for ‘Norman Rockwell’ types, so I had a friend take some photos of me that matched a Rockwell painting exactly,” Nelson said. “I got the part!” Although his lines didn’t make it into the final movie, he can be seen eating behind John Lithgow and Debra Winger during a scene filmed at Kay’s Restaurant in Lincoln.
Nelson graduated from UNL in 1984 and drove to Hollywood the day after his final exam to start an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences internship with the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
“That gave me a great foot-in-the door that led to my next several jobs in TV and film at all the networks and most of the big studios,” he said. He worked as an assistant on “The Golden Girls” in its first season, and then worked for the show’s director Paul Bogart for several more years. He enjoyed working with one of the show’s stars, Betty White.
Todd’s other work includes five years as a special projects executive at Disney, producer of promos for Fox Television and producer at CBS television.
A documentary he created in 2000, “Surviving Friendly Fire: The Making of a Street Kids Theater Project,” has been honored in more than 50 festivals around the world.
He also created a documentary in the mid-1980s called “Haiti’s Helping Hands,” about a Holdrege medical missionary team. His mother served on the Haitian medical missions with Dr. Stuart Embury for about 15 years. Nelson traveled with the group one summer to make the film, which helped raise money for further missions and to fund a school and a wing to the hospital in Haiti.
Nelson founded the Nebraska Coast Connection in 1992. The group meets monthly for Hollywood Salons, which are gatherings that often feature guest speakers or educational topics.
Nelson said it was difficult to move to the coast and not know anyone. “I just decided that was not going to happen to anyone else,” he said. “I wanted to give them friends they can count on to give them real advice.” Several Holdrege natives participate in the group, including 1991 graduate Ryan Quincy, who grew up in the same house that Nelson did on Hancock Street in Holdrege.
“It’s really kind of remarkable that a small town like Holdrege has so many successes in the entertainment industry,” he said. At one time there were six or more Holdrege natives in the NCC. According to the group’s website, the Nebraska Coast Connection is “people connecting and working and dreaming together. Pioneering a new way-a Nebraska style-of making Hollywood a little more neighborly. A little more kind. A little more like home.”
Recent famous members include “Nebraska” director Alexander Payne and Kearney native Jon Bokencamp, a writer-producer-director for the new NBC series, “The Blacklist.”
|Alexander Payne & Todd Nelson at NebraskaScreening Paramount|
In a January 2014 issue of “The Reader,” Bokencamp said Nelson’s “love for Nebraska runs deep, and he’s found a way to channel that love into a really positive networking group with the Nebraska Coast Connection. NCC is a warm, energetic, and creative environment. Todd just wants to see people succeed.”
Payne said in the same article, “I enjoy the group. We have a shared sensibility, a shared sense of humor, shared childhood references. And Todd is a forceful personality. He’s the most benevolent, charismatic cult leader one could imagine.”
In 1998, Nelson began working for CBS Television, a job he still holds today. Later, he started his own company, Braska Films, which produces promos for CBS Studios International. Braska Films employs two full-time employees besides Nelson and hires more employees seasonally, usually from Nebraska. “Why would I ever need to look outside that group (the Nebraska Coast Connection),” Nelson said. “I know how hard-working and reliable Nebraskans are.”
Over the years, Nelson has brought in 10 Nebraskans to either work for Braska Films or CBS, including Kearney’s Bokencamp.
Nelson married yoga/meditation instructor Marion Tango in 2005, and their son, Jack, was born in 2006. They now live in Pasadena. His future plans include hopefully directing and producing two feature films, which are both in the script-writing stage. He is working with Alexander Payne on one of the movies.
Nelson said the support of family and community has helped him succeed in the film industry. “You know everyone in a small town, and everyone knows you,” Nelson said. “I always felt supported in exploring, being curious, and following my dreams that I attribute to the adventurous pioneering people who were our ancestors – coming from far-off lands to begin again. And, to create a better world than the one left behind.
“I had to leave to do what I do now in Hollywood, but there’s nothing like a small-town childhood,” Nelson said. “Holdrege is a great place to be from.”
To read more about the NCC, visit the web site at nebraskacoast.com.
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Dreamers from Nebraska, as from everywhere else, have flocked to Hollywood since the motion picture industrys start. Softening the harsh realities of making it in Tinsel Towns dog-eat-dog world, where who you know is often more vital than what you know, is the mission behind the Nebraska Coast Connection. This networking alliance of natives already established in Hollywood or aspiring to be is the brainchild of Todd Nelson, a Holdrege son who’s been in Hollywood since 1984. A former Disney executive, his company Braska Films produces international promos for CBS… Click here to read the full article in The Reader.
Upon discovering theres a networking group for Nebraskans in Hollywood called the Nebraska Coast Connection it’s not surprising for someone to ask, There are Nebraskans in Hollywood? Yes, and a lot more than you might think. The fact is there have always been Nebraskans in that strange and alluring land of make-believe. A surprising number of natives of this Midwestern state have played and continue playing prominent roles there, both behind the camera and in front of the camera, all the way from the motion picture industry’s start through the advent of television and more recently the dawn of multi-media platforms. The story that follows is my profile of the Nebraska Coast Connection for an upcoming issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com).
Much of my story is based on interviews I did with the Nebraska Coast Connection’s founder and president, Todd Nelson, a Holdrege, Neb. native who’s been doing his thing in Hollwyood for 30 years. His group’s monthly Hollywood Salon has become its signature event. This part social mixer and part professional seminar allows folks to tout their projects and to hear featured speakers, such as Oscar-winner Alexander Payne. I also have insights and impressions about the organization from three of the biggest names from here in Hollywood: filmmaker Alexander Payne, whose new film Nebraska is sure to fare well at the Oscars; writer-producer-director Jon Bokenkamp, whose hit new NBC series The Blacklist has elevated him to the prime time A-list; and former network executive and script writer Lew Hunter, whos retired from the craziness but knows where the bodies are buried. All speak glowingly about the nurturing nature of the group and how it offers a home away from home environment in what can be otherwise a cold, harsh culture for those working in the industry or aspiring to.
I can speak to the warm hospitality offered by the group based on two recent experiences I had with it. I was there for the Sept. 9 Hollywood Salon featuring Payne and for a Nov. 16 screening of Paynes Nebraska at Paramount Studios. I was also the featured speaker for its Nov. 11 salon. Todd Nelson was my gracious host each time.
This blog is filled with stories and interviews I’ve done with film figures, famous and not so famous. Much of that work as well as related activity I’m now purusing will feed into an eventual book about Nebraskans in Hollywood, past and present. I am the author of the current book, Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.
Nebraska Coast Connection: Networking group ties Nebraskans in Hollywood
by Leo Adam Biga
Soon to appear in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Todd Nelson interviewing Payne at the Sept. 9 salon
Dreamers from Neb., as from everywhere else, have flocked to Hollywood since the motion picture industrys start.
Softening the harsh realities of making it in Tinsel Towns dog-eat-dog world, where who you know is often more vital than what you know, is the mission behind the Nebraska Coast Connection. This networking alliance of natives already established in Hollywood or aspiring to be is the brainchild of Todd Nelson, a Holdrege son who’s been in Hollywood since 1984. A former Disney executive, his company Braska Films produces international promos for CBS.
Early in his foray on the coast Nelson was aided by industry veterans and once settled himself he felt an obligation to give back.
His own Hollywood dream extends back to childhood. He made an animated film with his father, created neighborhood theatricals and headlined a magic act, ala home state heroes Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, that netted a recurring spot on a local TV show and gigs around the state.
I guess I didn’t know any better and nobody ever told me I couldn’t do it, so I just kept at it, Nelson says.
As a University of Nebraska-Lincoln theater and broadcast journalism major he made the then-Sheldon Film Theatre (now the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center) his film school.
To see classic movies and to meet the filmmakers behind some of them was just a fantastic experience and a real eye opener for me.
Frustrated by limited filmmaking ops at UNL, he talked his way into using Nebraska Educational Television production facilities to direct a one-act play for the small screen. He also worked as a KETV reporter-photojournalist in the ABC affiliate’s Lincoln bureau.
He was an extra in Terms of Endearment during the feature’s Lincoln shoot.
An internship brought Nelson out to the coast, where he worked behind-the-scenes on a soap and later served as personal assistant to TV-film director Paul Bogart (All in the Family). After five years as a senior project executive at Disney he left to produce and direct the documentary Surviving Friendly Fire.
Nelson formed NCC in 1992. A couple years later he befriended fellow Nebraskan Alexander Payne, then gearing up to make his first feature, Citizen Ruth. Payne was looking for an L.A. apartment and Nelson leased him a unit in the building he managed and lived in. The neighbors became friends and the Nebraskans in Hollywood community Nelson cultivated grew.
He’s a terrific guy, Payne says of Nelson, He is, as they say, good people.
In 1995 Nelson inaugurated NCC’s signature Hollywood Salon series. He knew he was onto something when the first event drew hundreds. His strong UNL ties brought support from the schools foundation.
The monthly Salon has met at some iconic locations, including the Hollywood Athletic Club and CBS sound stages. Its home these days is the historic Culver Hotel in Culver City, Calif., whose namesake, Nebraskan Harry Culver, attracted the fledgling movie industry to his city in the 1920s. Many Golden Era stars kept residences at the hotel, which purportedly was owned by a succession of Hollywood heavyweights. In this ultimate company town, the hotel is next to Sony Pictures Studios, giving the salon the feel of an insiders confab.
The group boasts a mailing list of more than 1,000 and nearly as many anecdotes from those who’ve found fellowship, employment, even love, through its ranks.
Payne likes that NCC affords a kind of Neb. fraternity in Hollywood.
It’s wonderful and hilarious. It’s hilarious in the way that being from Neb. is hilarious. Maybe people from other states do the same, but I know the Neb. version of how they seek one another out in other cities. I know there’s a Neb. club of some sort in New York City. The states members of Congress host a Nebraskans breakfast in D.C.
Nebraskans feel comfortable with one another outside of Neb. and I am no exception, I enjoy the group, we have a shared sensibility, a shared sense of humor, shared childhood references. And Todd is a forceful personality. He’s the most benevolent, charismatic cult leader one could imagine, he says with a wink.
According to Nelson, There is something really unique about Nebraskans. We belong together in this way that no other place does. I have watched other groups come and go trying to duplicate what we do and every group without fail has just fallen apart, and some of them are from the Midwest, so it’s not just the Midwest thing.
Payne’s far past needing the NCC’s connections but he says, I’m very happy to continue my participation as an occasional guest speaker.
Bokenkamp does the same. The Kearney native parked cars when he first got out there. He did have a script but no idea how to get it to anyone that mattered. At Nelson’s urging Bokenkamp entered a screenwriting contest. He won. It got him an agent and eventually jobs writing features (Taking Lives) and even directing a pic (Bad Seed).
Nelson enjoys aiding folks get their starts in the business.
There’s definitely a thrill watching new people realize their own potential, he says. Jamie Ball from Grand Island wanted to be an editor. I’ve given her a chance and she’s working in the big leagues now as a video editor, making a substantial living and finding she really enjoys living her dream. I love being a part of making that happen.
But I also get the benefit of her good work and it’s enabled me to get home to see my son more often and to take a sick day once in a while. It’s a huge help to have her on my team.
Against all odds small population Neb’s produced an inordinate number of success stories in film and television, including several legends. The star actors alone run the gamut from Harold Lloyd and Fred Astaire to Robert Taylor, Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire to Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift to James Coburn, Sandy Dennis, Nick Nolte and Marg Helgenberger. At least one major studio mogul, Darryl Zanuck, originally hailed from here. As have leading composers. cinematographers, editors, writers and casting directors.
Payne heads the current crop, but he’s hardly alone. Most homegrown talents are not household names but they occupy vital posts in every facet of the biz. For each hopeful who makes it, such as producer-writer Timothy Schlattmann (Dexter) from Nebraska City, many others give up. Having a sanctuary of Nebraskans to turn to smooths the way.
Nelson credits former UNL theater professor Bill Morgan with sparking the concept for NCC.
He was the one who really put the idea of a Neb. connection in my brain. I would always visit with him when back home for Christmas and he would pull out a stack of holiday cards from all his old students. I’d say to him that I don’t know so-and-so, they were before or after my time. He would write down their contact info and nudge me to get in touch with them. He just thought we all should know each other. And inevitably when I did follow up, they would always welcome me into their lives because we shared Dr. Morgan ¦even if it was from a different era. That was the seed of the NCC right there.
Among those UNL grads Nelson looked up was the late Barney Oldfield, a Tecumseh native who was a newspaper reporter and press aide to Allied commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II before becoming a Warner Bros. publicist and independent press agent to such stars as Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan and Elizabeth Taylor. In his post-Hollywood years he worked in corporate public relations and became a major philanthropist.
Barney was an amazing guy. He became a big supporter of the Coast Connection, Nelson says. We hosted his 90th birthday party at CBS on the big stage. He regaled us with stories of his old PR days and knowing everybody under the sun.
Another of the old guard Nelson called on was Guide Rock native Lew Hunter, a former network TV executive and script writer whose 434 Screenwriting class at UCLA became the basis for a popular book he authored. Hunter, who today leads a screenwriting colony in Superior, Neb., offered a model for what became the salon.
He used to do what he called a Writer’s Block when he still lived in Burbank, Nelson says. It was a kind of salon. He’s seen that our salon continues that, so he’s a big supporter.
Hunter says, Todd and I often thought and spoke about a similar monthly gathering of Nebraskans and he pulled it off. It has been a wonderful spin and he really is the father of it all.
But what really compelled Nelson to form NCC was the stark reality that even though hundreds of Nebraskans worked in Hollywood, few knew each other and there was no formal apparatus to link them.
I’d been working in Hollywood already 10 years and meeting a lot of Nebraskans and nobody seemed to know each other. We needed to have access to each other.
Thus, the all-volunteer Nebraska Coast Connection was born.
People teasingly called it the Nebraska Mafia, but it was kind of like that , we could take care of each other.
Variety managing editor Kirsten Wilder, yet another Neb. native in Hollywood, has a warm feeling for the group and marvels at its founder’s persistence.
The NCC is near and dear to my heart. The reason the NCC is so successful is because of Todd Nelson’s staggering devotion to keep the group alive and thriving.
Nelson defers credit to the natural conviviality of Nebraskans.
You get these people that come out here from Neb. and it doesn’t matter where they’re from in the state, it doesn’t matter that they don’t have a direct contact with someone else, the fact that you are from Neb. is an instant welcome. It’s not entirely universal. I met Nick Nolte at the Golden Globes one year and I told him about our group and I said we’d love to have him come and talk to us sometime and he said, ˜Why would I want to hangout with a bunch of Nebraskans? I got away from that place.” That’s a rarity, once in a while you run into it, but most of the time we find that everybody just connects instantly.
A tribute screening of silent screen great Harold Lloyd’s work brought inspired NCC members to don replicas of the icons signature horned-rim glasses
Nelson says that in what can be a cold, rootless town NCC provides a safe haven that comes with the shared identity and experience of being among other Nebraskans .
We call it Home Sweet Home in Hollywood and it has that quality to it. You need a home base I think if you’re going to do this kind of hard work of always having to put yourself out there and come up against the sharks of the world. I don’t think growing up in Neb. especially prepares you for how hard it will be to actually make it while you ply your trade and build your career. Hollywood just isn’t very nurturing. You can really use a community out here to help you get your bearings and give you a leg up. Or at least some friendly faces to be yourself with as you make your way.
Bokenkamp admires what Nelson and the group provide.
His love for Neb. runs deep, and he’s found a way to channel that love into a really positive networking group with the Nebraska Coast Connection. NCC is a warm, energetic and creative environment. Todd just wants to see people succeed.
Thing is, in a land as strange as Hollywood, it’s just nice to have a place to go now and then that feels like home. NCC is that for a lot of Nebraskans.
Payne says he can appreciate how NCC makes negotiating Hollywood less lonely and frightening for newcomers.
L.A. is such a scary place to approach when you’re young and want a career in film or television. Everyone is telling you you can’t make it, perhaps you’re even telling yourself that, but you’ve giving it a try anyway. Add to that the fact you’re from Neb. and have no connections. Well, it turns out there is an organization that welcomes you and has people in exactly the same boat there to commiserate with. It’s a wonderful, caring organization.
Nelson says without the NCC it’s easy for some to give up their dream.
I’ve seen many people go back home after a few years of waiting for their break and not getting very far. Pressure from parents and friends is part of it. People in Neb. don’t really get how long and hard these careers can be to get started. There’s no distinct ladder to climb, no road map, lots of horror stories and kids here can run out of money or run out of steam. That’s when a safe job back home near the folks looks more and more attractive.
I’ve had many parents tell me they wouldn’t let their kid try it in Hollywood without the safety net we give them.
Nelson says NCC offers a way to make foot-in-the-door contacts that parlay a kind of pay-it-forward, Neb.-centric nepotism.
I know the NCC works because I see it over and over. People are constantly making job contacts, finding support, getting roommates, attending each other’s performances, hiring actors and crew for their films. It is going on all the time at every Salon. Hopefully it will happen even more with the interactivity built into the new website. Our goal is to have a kind of virtual salon to help everyone stay in touch with each other in between salons.
Even after some folks reach some level of success they come back often and say it gives them a friendly home base.
Real jobs result from NCC hook-ups.
As a producer who has hired or recommended over a dozen people to work at CBS-TV over the years, including a young Jon Bokenkamp, I know this group to be a huge resource of great talent. I don’t ever need to go elsewhere to find the best people, Nelson says.
Nelson’s quick to point out he’s not alone in his home state loyalty.
Jeopardy executive producer Harry Friedman is from Omaha and he is famous for hiring Nebraskans on his shows. Many others out here from Neb. recommend Nebraskans first. Why wouldn’t they? It always makes sense to hire people you know, or know where they came from, and Nebraskans are almost universally loved for their work ethic, responsibility under pressure and humble & get it done spirit.
Nelson says he’s pleased the NCC, which rated a fall L.A. Times feature article, has made it this far.
I don’t think if you told me 21 years ago that we’d still be going this strong I would have believed it. In fact, it’s kind of moving into some new levels. For example, with the Nebraska screening at Paramount I was able to reach out to all these folks who’ve been salon guests and they were very excited about it.
Besides Nelson and Payne, attendees at the screening included Bokenkamp, Chris Klein, actor Nicholas D’Agosto and actress turned-mystery author Harley Jane Kozak.
Celebrating success stories like these is part of the deal. But Nelson says the heart of the NCC will always be a group focused first on the kid that’s been out here for a week, that drove out in his dad’s car full of stuff, is staying on somebody’s couch and has 500 bucks to his name. I mean, that’s really what we’re here to do and that’s going on every month at the salon “ somebody showing up for the first time who’s in that circumstance. That’s the way it works.
Cinematographer Greg Hadwick showed up like that out of Lincoln, recalls Nelson. I think he drove all night to make it to the salon. No sooner did Hadwick arrive then he learned Nelson and his then-very pregnant wife were due to move that weekend and he volunteered to help.
He was just a trooper, says Nelson. He rented a truck and stayed late. He was such an incredibly hard worker. He didn’t ask for any money and he wouldn’t take any. The next salon I told the group what he did and somebody who was looking for an assistant hired Greg based on my recommendation, and that kid has gone on to work his butt off in Hollywood, He just showed up, open, ready to jump in. He’s now started his own production company and brought guys out here from his hometown in Neb., so he’s kind of doing his own giving back.
Nelson says he can usually spot who has what it takes.
I’ve seen a lot of those kids who try to make it for awhile who don’t stick. Then there’s the ones that right away I know, Oh, yeah, they’re going to do it. There is a certain confidence, I don’t think you can make it in this town without that confidence. But there’s so much more to it than that. In so many ways it’s about, Do they have something to give? There’s a lot of people that come out here and they think, Well, what can I get out of this? Almost without exception the ones who make it are the ones who want to give back.
I’ll back these people a hundred percent and help them on their way because that’s what you do here, that’s what it’s about.
The reciprocity continues. Nelson and Payne attended the dedication of Bokenkamp’s restored World Theatre in his hometown of Kearney. Nelson says,” It was a great celebration of Jon’s good work.” Nelson also organized a group to attend a screening of Bokenkanp’s documentary about the waning days of drive-in theaters, After Sunset. Bokenkamp returned the favor speaking at the October salon. The home state contingent turned out in force for the Paramount Nebraska screening. And so it goes with the Coast Connection.
“There’s never been a time when it’s felt like a one-way street”, says Nelson. It always comes back.
Follow the Coast Connection on Facebook or at http://nebraskacoast.com/.
November 20, 2013,Â 5:30 a.m.
Director Alexander Payne was greeted like a hometown hero Saturday night — more than 1,500 miles from his native Omaha.
Nearly 300 actors, writers, producers, crew members and students crammed into the Sherry Lansing Theatre on the Paramount Studios lot for a Q&A and screening of Payne’s newly released “Nebraska.”
The Oscar-winning writer and director ofÂ “The Descendants,”“Sideways” and “Election” was the guest speaker at the event, organized by the Nebraska Coast Connection, an unusual support group of Nebraskans who work in the film and TV industry.
The black-and-white film, with its depiction of small-town life in the Cornhusker State, is a point of pride for the group, which includes more than 1,000 people. In the movie,Â Bruce DernÂ plays an aging and acerbic man who travels across the Midwest with his son to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize.
“This movie has such a resonance for us because so many of us grew up in small towns,” said Todd Nelson, the group’s founder and a freelance television producer for CBS. “I’m so proud that [Payne] has introduced Nebraska to the world in a way that isn’t just football andÂ Bruce Springsteen,” who made a best-selling album named after the state.
Billing itself as the “Nebraska mafia of Hollywood,” the Nebraska Coast Connection hosts monthly panel discussions with prominent Nebraskans, who come to talk about their work and offer advice to aspiring writers, directors and actors.
The meetings are typically held at the historic Culver Hotel in the old offices of Culver City founder Harry Culver — born in Milford, Neb.
The state’s roots in Hollywood run deep.
“We have Harold Lloyd, Montgomery Cliff, Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda,Â Dick CavettÂ — we’re a proud bunch,” Payne said.
Payne has been a longtime supporter of the Connection, coaxing cast and crew members from his films to be guest speakers and help Nebraska newcomers find careers and make contacts.
“I’m sure other states have some organizations, but I bet none of them are as large and well organized as the Nebraska Coast Connection,” Payne said. “It feels like being home.”
Nelson, aÂ University of NebraskaÂ graduate, launched the first Hollywood salon in 1995 with the help of the University of Nebraska Foundation, initially as a way to help his fellow home-staters network.
“Every job I had I would meet other Nebraskans, and none of them knew each other,” said Nelson, whose company Braska Films makes promos for CBS Studios International. “I thought if we could just band together, there must be 20 or 30 of us. Our first event, we had 200 people.”
The group’s network includes such high-profile figures asÂ Marg Helgenberger, star of CBS’Â “CSI”Â and “Intelligence”; Nick D’Agosto of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”; Tim Schlattmann, writer and producer of Showtime’sÂ “Dexter”; and Jon Bokenkamp, writer and creator of NBC’sÂ “The Blacklist.”
Bokenkamp, who was a guest of the group last month, said the Nebraska Coast Connection gave an early boost to his career. He was fresh out of film school at USC and parking cars for a living when he met Nelson at one of the group’s events. The two hailed from the small city of Kearney, Neb., and quickly became friends.
Nelson encouraged Bokenkamp to enter a screenwriting contest, which he won, launching his career.
“That would have never happened had I not bumped into Todd and got to know him through this group,” Bokenkamp said. “It’s people from home who get you and understand what it’s like to be in a place like Nebraska, but also what it’s like to leave a place like Nebraska and explore the entertainment industry, which can be a very scary thing.”
Bokenkamp’s fellow Kearney native, Schlattmann, was a guest in fall 2011.
“So much of show business is networking, so when you have a group that has a common bond, it’s fantastic,” Schlattmann said. “I’ve certainly recommended people for casting that I’ve met through Connection and keep people in mind for future projects.”
Variety detailed Nebraska Coast Connection. Click here for more.