Westword Book Club: Evan Nix on Joseph Campbell, Bruce Campbell and The Wiz
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature that celebrates the books that inspire Denver artists.
Evan Nix is a local filmmaker with roots in Denver's comedy scene. With the help of his younger brother, Adam, a fellow filmmaker with whom he shared a Westword MasterMind award this year, Evan Nix has developed a fruitful creative relationship with the Grawlix comedy trio, producing several sketch videos along with the annual Laugh Track Comedy Festival. This week, Nix met with us to discuss the books that helped shape his sense of humor, as well as the importance of insulating yourself in naivete in order to follow your bliss.
Westword: Were there any books in particular that inspired you as a filmmaker?
Evan Nix: One that I read early on that had a lot of influence on me was Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill. I like the Evil Dead movies, but I was more inspired by the story of how these guys cobbled together this movie on their own out in the woods. That DIY aspect of Bruce Campbell and Sam and Ivan Raimi inspired me to want start pursue filmmaking with my brother, to get out and shoot things ourselves. I was recommended that book in high school by my science teacher. I was really bad in high school; I graduated like fifth in my class. I used to intentionally avoid morning quizzes and during his lectures, I'd sit at the back of the classroom reading Vonnegut. Somehow, he must have respected that because I've maintained a friendship with him into my adult life. So he put that book in my hands and said, "Uou should read this book and start making films, you idiot."
Were you a fan of the Evil Dead movies already?
He introduced me to those too, actually.
A science teacher?
Yeah. Kind of a funny recommendation, now that I think back.
Did he recommend the Vonnegut you were ignoring him for?
No, that was a good friend of mine who gave me his copy of Slaughterhouse Five. I finished it in a few hours and called my dad and asked him to pick up another Vonnegut from the bookstore. Then I'd ride my bike to Borders, and I ended up reading like every one of his books in a few months. That's one of his less humorous books, actually.
I don't know. "So it goes" is a kind of wicked callback.
Every time someone dies? It's a lot about death, aging and decay. It's kind of a heavy and morbid book, especially for a teenager to get into. I responded to the satire and humor in Vonnegut's books, but I do think they shaped my politics and philosophy. He always referred to himself as a humanist, which really struck a chord with me as a young filmmaker.
Has anything you've read influenced the way you write?
There's a book called The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler; I had read something Darren Aronofsky wrote about how he recommends this book to directors. It's basically an interpretation of Joseph Campbell that's specifically geared toward storytelling. I'd definitely read a bit of Joseph Campbell and was familiar with the concept of the hero's journey before I read this, but it's something I'll keep turning to for insight into how storytelling works. I don't get to write as much as I'd like, though. David Mamet has some books about screenwriting, but he's like a crazy Tea Partier now. Making Movies, by Sidney Lumet, is a great book about filmmaking by a Hollywood veteran. It goes through his entire career, film by film....
Even The Wiz?
Yeah, I think there's a chapter about The Wiz. The case study of each one of his films, which I can go back and watch and read about in detail. Lumet is interesting to me because his filmmaking style always served the narrative he was expressing, from a classic like12 Angry Men all the way to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. His direction serves the writing in a way that a lot of auteurs don't.
What are you reading currently?
Right now I'm reading Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines. I met him, he was doing a Q and A for some film based on one of his books, and Rainbow Chasers, a short film my brother and I made, opened up for Kurzweil's movie. He watched the film and later referred to himself as a rainbow chaser. This story has nothing to do with Kurzweil's writing, but it was pretty cool for me. His book is just a pure mind-fuck, it's crazy.
Have you found any helpful advice in a book that you've continued to follow? What book do you most often recommend to people?
This may sound cheesy, but what I find myself recommending the most often is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It's hard to tell people, "You really gotta read this book on how to be a better person." It just sounds so self-helpy. It gets a bad rap as something salesmen use to get better leads. More than anything, I've found it helpful in personal relationships. Everyone is looking for their feeling of importance, and if you are aware of that and you're trying to look at things from their perspective, it can only benefit you in every type of scenario. It gave me a different way of looking at that.
Any other wisdom from entrepreneurs?
Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson, really struck me with this idea of a reality distortion field.
What is that? Some technology that Apple is working on?
The reality distortion field is a way to describe the effect Steve Jobs had on people. He would absorb people. talking about these big ideas and ambitious things he wanted to do, and while he was talking, reality sort of left the room and people were agreeing and getting on board and wouldn't realize until like twenty minutes after he left that he'd just asked them to do something impossible. Failure didn't enter his field of thought. You have to have that kind of ambitious naivete in comedy or filmmaking, too.
Find out more about Evan Nix on the Nix Brothers' website.
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