Conservative actor Nick Searcy takes on Hollywood liberals with new indie film venture
'We need to infiltrate or create our own separate studio,' says the actor/director, citing the late Andrew Breitbart’s credo: 'Politics is downstream of culture.'
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
Nick Searcy thinks it isn’t enough being arguably Hollywood’s most outspoken conservative.
The “Justified” alum is pushing a new venture to make movies that “don’t insult people of faith or who love their country,” Searcy says.
The actor/director is teaming with American Pictures, a new production shingle exploring a trio of films capturing Heartland U.S.A. without apology.
Searcy routinely works within the Hollywood system, including parts in recent Oscar-winning films like “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” He still yearns to tell stories that don’t align with industry norms.
“We really need to basically infiltrate or create our own separate studio,” he says, citing the late Andrew Breitbart’s credo: “Politics is downstream of culture.”
The first two American Pictures films will be “Where I’m Bound,” about a ’60s gospel quartet, and “Revolutionary,” a retelling the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War.
The company offers a “debt/equity mix” designed, it says, to “minimize investor risk and maximize return.” The plan involves equity investment up to half of a film’s budget, not the entire amount. Plus, films will shoot in states, such as New Mexico and Georgia, with sizable tax credit programs.
American Pictures seeks $15 million by winter and expects to start shooting “Where I’m Bound” in early 2021.
Why would a character actor/director shift gears for a riskier film path?
“The left has known that pop culture has been important for ideological purposes since the ’20s,” he says, citing the progressive streak in director Stanley Kramer’s films, like 1961’s “Inherit the Wind,” as an example.
That movie, like some modern content, “demonized people of faith,” says Searcy, who complains too many Hollywood stories depict Christians as hypocrites, or worse.
Of course, there are exceptions to Searcy’s critique, illustrated by a recent wave of faith-friendly films, plus shows like CBS’s “Evil” and “God Friended Me.”
The hurdles facing Searcy and company are many, starting with funding issues.
“We have to convince conservative investors that storytelling is a good, long-term investment,” he says.
Any American Pictures project also may find tepid support from traditional media. A new Tom Hanks movie means the double Oscar-winner will grace the couches of Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and more. Plus, it’ll get broad coverage by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline.com.
A movie arriving from a heartland-friendly company may not get much exposure beyond conservative talk show hosts and podcasters.
Plus, actors like Eric McCormack and Debra Messing have suggested they won’t work with Republican co-stars. They both later backtracked, but conservatives routinely fear being ostracized for their views.
The biggest obstacle, Searcy says, is distribution. “Hollywood really controls all the possibilities, from streaming, online services, and theaters,” Searcy says.
As part of a larger effort to create an alternative new distribution channel, Searcy is partnering with CE Studios Inc. and their brand Creado, which includes both a production arm and a hybrid content platform that CE Studios President Jason Lehr pitches as "YouTube meets Netflix."
Karie Bible, box office analyst and film historian with Exhibitor Relations, says the faith-based film market has shown a steady stream of hits in recent years, like “I Can Only Imagine” ($83.4 million, 2018) and “The Shack” ($57.3 million, 2017).
Bible says some of those sleeper films hailed from “major Hollywood studios” like Lionsgate.
“At the end of the day, it is a business, and faith-based films are made on low budgets and can yield nice, tidy profits,” Bible says.
Still, the risks behind American Pictures tie into larger Tinseltown trends.
“In this current day and age, studios are risk-averse and are relying largely on known intellectual properties or safe bets,” Bible says. “This is why we have tons of sequels, reboots, remakes, etc.” That said, streaming platforms are increasingly comfortable, Bible acknowledges, with low-to-mid-range-budgets, like those Searcy has in mind.
Owen Brennan, a producer on last year’s “No Safe Spaces” docudrama, says Searcy starts with something uniquely helpful in filmmaking — relationships. Searcy’s career began with parts in films like “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Days of Thunder,” and he’s been acting consistently ever since.
It helps that Searcy says he avoids political banter on film sets.
Still, Brennan learned firsthand the challenges behind film distribution while bringing “No Safe Spaces,” a film featuring a plethora of right-leaning stars, to the public. He thought his film had secured a distribution deal, but when it fell through the film’s release date got bumped to a more competitive film window. Suddenly, the indie docudrama had to compete against blockbusters like “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
“If you have a small film ... finding a distributor to get your film out will be a big challenge,” he says, adding distribution also adds to a movie’s overall budget.
“It’s a huge expense,” he says.
Should American Pictures find its footing, Searcy knows one story he’s itching to tell. Irina Nistor, a Romanian translator, dubbed the voices of U.S.-made action films in the 1980s for the Communist nation.
“They censored everything from Hollywood, not just the content but the full grocery stories and how [Americans] lived so well,” Searcy says. “They didn’t want Romanian people to see how the West was running rings around them. She became the most famous voice in Romania.”
Smuggled VHS copies of American action movies, starring the likes of Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone, still reached the masses. Those “illegal” films allegedly fed the movement to overthrow the oppressive Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime, a subject explored in the 2015 documentary “Chuck Norris vs. Communism.”
Searcy thinks American Pictures could be starting at an ideal moment, especially given China’s ties to the current pandemic. Audiences are increasingly aware of the deep bonds between China and Hollywood.
“Hollywood soiled its own bed,” he says,” declaring, “the time is right to replace them.”
Searcy might even get some support from some Hollywood peers who, up until now, have remained silent on political matters. He often gets approached on movie sets by actors and crew members who quietly applaud his thinking.
“‘Man, I agree with you, but I’d never say it out loud,’” he says of those whispered confessions.
Searcy has worked with dozens of actors who lean to the left, and it never bothered him.
“We’re talking about making movies here and telling stories?” he says.
“So what if we disagree about politics?”
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