Upon graduating from college, Writer/Director Jeremy Lerman began writing a film set in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, about a group of guys at the same post-college crossroads where he found himself. Where did the bike-couriers-in-Nebraska angle come from? Lerman says: "A buddy of mine, who was originally from Omaha, was working as a bike messenger in Boston. When he would visit home, he just carried on riding everywhere in the 'burbs, ignoring the big distances and car culture. I liked the idea of these characters making up their own rules, including riding their BMX bikes through farm country for two bucks." The characters would call their business "Nebraska Supersonic." He adds: "Incidentally, in the movie, the BMX with the sweet mags, that's my junior high bike."
While continuing to write the Nebraska Supersonic screenplay, Lerman enrolled in New York University's “Sight and Sound” course. He says of the experience: "It's non-stop movie making, covering everything from the physics of lenses to sound mixing. You're shooting 16mm on the second day of class. I wanted to be sure that I could handle the basics of any position on the Nebraska Supersonic set because I was pretty sure the crew wouldn't be too experienced. As it turned out, I ended up as D.P. (Director of Photography) because I was the only one who knew about lighting and the technical side of shooting."
After completing his NYU course, Lerman returned to Omaha, where he was joined for casting and shooting by Florian Schura and Ash L'Ange, two Brits Lerman had met at the Cannes Film Festival. Lerman says of the meeting: "We met in line where we were all trying to scam producer's credentials for better passes." Also joining the team was Associate Producer, and Lerman's classmate from the University of Pennsylvania, Matt Wasowski.
The filmmakers found their actors through a variety of methods, including posting fliers at Omaha playhouses and coffee shops, ads in the alt weekly paper--and through luck. The team happened upon co-lead actor Jesse Joyner at a friend's friend's party. Next, the actor who plays the wound-up cop in the film, B.J. Tobin, casually mentioned a strong performance by an actor he'd seen the night before at a local playhouse--that actor turned out to be co-lead Matt Kelehan. The third lead, Sonny Robinson, was an old friend of Lerman's; the two had met while working on Alexander Payne's Election.
The production office, crew housing, transportation department and craft services all shared one location: the house of the director's mother, Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman.
Lerman says of the production's homemade style: "No-budget movies are obviously nothing new, but I think we're coming to some kind of second wave of the cheapie movie. Filmmakers like myself have the advantage of studying a sizable body of no-budget work like El Mariachi and Clerks, determining their strengths and then hopefully adding a few tricks of our own.” Lerman points out that Nebraska Supersonic might be on the end of one no-budget trend: “We shot on actual film, not digital video. We used many of film's inherent strengths, like having both a bright sunset and an actor's face in shadow in the same frame.”
Filmed with minimal, erratic, 16mm equipment (some rented, some borrowed, and some “extra borrowed”) and a lean 5:1 shooting ratio, the shoot lasted just over a month, including a three-week stretch of 14-18 hour days, 7 days a week.
While Lerman edited the film, he and Wasowski found the music. "I'm proud of the music in the film. That's always the first thing audiences ask about," Lerman says. "We used talented bands from the famous Omaha indie scene, as well as original music written for the film by a college friend, Rob Redei. All the songs in the movie will be on the DVD as bonus mp3s."
Lerman sums up the trial-by-fire nature of making his first feature: "To paraphrase my mentor Rummy, there are known knowns and known unknowns when you make any film--but making a no-budget feature as a first-time director, it's mostly unknown unknowns."