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Bob Nelson – From ‘Almost Live’ to almost famous

Bob Nelson was part of the famed local comedy show “Almost Live” which launched the careers of Bill Nye and Joel McHale among others. And now, almost 15 years later after that show’s demise, Nelson is getting his chance in the spotlight.

His very first screenplay has just been turned into an Alexander Payne movie called “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern. The movie’s about an old codger who is so convinced he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes that he travels hundreds of miles to get it. It’s winning rave reviews and has a slew of Independent Spirit Award nominations to its credit, including one for Nelson’s screenplay.

Nelson stopped by the KIRO Studios to talk to me about Nebraska’s long gestation period.

“The idea came while I was still on ‘Almost Live.’ I’d heard about people actually going across the country with sweepstakes notices because they were afraid to put them in the mail and they would show up at the office with that in tow and I just had that kernel of an idea and what really helped me to start writing that was when they canceled “Almost Live” and fired me. Being unemployed really can help spur you on to write that screenplay finally that you’ve been talking about.”

Nelson says Payne told him right off the bat he wanted to direct his screenplay but would have to wait a while before he could get to it.

That while turned into a decade-long wait. But he says it was well worth it. He says it’s remarkable how close the long-delayed movie version is to the long-a-go original script, with one major difference. It’s in black and white.

“My first description was a truck rolls down through the golden wheat of Nebraska,” says Nelson. “The other thing is I’m an out-of-work writer so writing a script for Hollywood and saying this has to be shot in black and white is probably not the best idea either.”

Nelson says initially he was of two minds about the decision to go black and white.

“My mind was immediately split. Half of it was this is fantastic it will look like a classical movie. There are no cell phones or computers in it, so it will have this timeless feel, and the other half was thinking box office. What is this going to do?

The positive critical reception has more than made up for any box office concerns.

And as far as his screenwriting success goes, he credits a lot of it to his days at “Almost Live.”

“I couldn’t have written this movie if I hadn’t gone through the ‘Almost Live’ experience. When you’re writing sketches, you have to create a world and characters in three minutes and make it pay off. So you have to be very taut, you have to be terse sometimes. Every word has to count,” says Nelson.

By the way, the first time Nelson saw his film on the big screen was at its Cannes Film Festival premiere. Not bad for a guy from “Almost Live.”

“Not only a guy from ‘Almost Live,’ but a guy from Kent. A guy from Kent sitting at Cannes watching his movie. You almost should retire right then,” says Nelson.

“Nebraska” is in theatres right now.

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