Nebraska Film: Dana Altman of North Sea Films
Dana Altman, right, on set with his uncle, Robert Reed Altman, a camera operator and director of photography. Photo by Paparazzi by Appointment, courtesy of Dana Altman.
Editor's Note: This article is part of a series titled Nebraska Film: An Exploration of the Growing Community. Learn more about the goals of this series and find links to its articles in our announcement: Nebraska Film series starts Monday, August 9.
The opening credits of the latest feature film to come out of Omaha, Lovely, Still, features a familiar name to a couple different communities. For basketball fans, Dana Altman is the former head coach of Creighton University men's basketball. For film buffs, Dana Altman is the owner, producer, and director of North Sea Films, a film production company located in Omaha's Midtown district.
Both, in their own right, are respected for their craft and dedication to success.
The latter one, however, now stands as Omaha's lone Dana Altman, and just as Creighton's Altman brought the university national exposure thanks to a number of successful basketball season, North Sea Films' Altman is poised to do the same for Omaha film.
"I have a burning desire to accept the fact that LA is not the only place where there's talent," Altman said. "I know that there's capable and talented people in my neighborhood because we just have too many people, so the odds are is that we're gonna find good, creative talent in different various forms right here.
"If I can explore those [...] and help them and excel them, then that needs to be done because otherwise they'll end up being baggers at the supermarket."
Over a decade ago, one of those finds was Nik Fackler, who connected with Altman after sitting next to Altman's wife on a plane ride. "Nik Fackler showed up with a short film," Altman said, "Technically, it was a horrible film. The cast and the acting was miserable at best, but the story was insane."
Altman stressed that the story, or script, is as integral to filmmaking as it is to other expressions of art. Altman said he encouraged Fackler, telling him, "What's next? Let me help you do your next film. I'll help you with the technical, you just keep giving story." Fackler took up Altman's offer and recived Altman's technical assistance on his next few short films, and then on music videos he was making.
"The whole time he had this script in his pocket called Lovely, Still," Altman said. "It wasn't called Lovely, Still then, but that's the one that's out now." The feature film starring acclaimed actors Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn is scheduled for release in cities from New York to Los Angeles beginning September 10.
As mentioned above, Altman is credited as one of the film's producer, but with regards to Fackler, Altman is one of the promsing young filmmaker's mentors. And this relationship is quite fitting, as Altman himself had a strong mentor in the film industry, his grandfather, the late Robert Altman (below), a highly-respected director of independent films.
It was on the set of Robert Altman's 1981 film Popeye that Altman got his first real taste of film production. However, it wasn't until he graduated from college (Wayne State, 1988), that he found a fitting role for himself outside of his original hope of becoming an actor.
"I got behind the camera and that's where I felt a little more comfortable and capable, and then that's when I really started to get a hold of Bob and explore what his wealth of knowledge had," Altman said. "But, you know, he's still in every history book, he's still in every filmmaker book as the the premiere independent filmmaker and it's something that will never go away."
Left, Robert Altman. Photo courtesy of Dana Altman.
Altman readily admits he'll never fill his grandfather's shoes, that he's on "a pedestal no one will ever touch." But Altman is aiming to make really good features films, and do so with a base out of Omaha.
Back to Omaha
Altman, a native of Fremont, Nebraska, said moving back to Omaha in the early 90s was the best thing he's ever done. At the time, he had wrapped up a two year stint with Universal Pictures in Los Angeles. And after setting up a production studio on his return, originally called No Cost Post-Production, he got right back into the film industry.
"I met a guy by the name of Dan Mirvish, who was trying to put his thesis film together, and that ended up being our first film, which is Omaha (The Movie)." Altman said the film went on to win awards and, more importantly, screen in nearly 30 countries. From there, he went on to create a horror film followed by a few comedies. The company, called North Sea Films today, sustains itself through its commercial clients, from 30 second commercials to long form educational projects.
Looking to the future, more feature films are in North Sea's plans but Altman's unsure of he'll be filming them in Omaha like Lovely, Still. "The hardest [barrier] is probably fighting the window of a non-tax incentive state," Altman said. "Now I don't know if tax incentives are the right thing but there is no benefit to coming to Omaha and shooting so that keeps a lot of people from doing that."
Altman – whose feature film budget's range from 1-5 million dollars – said that he looks to put the money invested on-screen. For example, when another state offers a tax credit that refunds 30 percent of the company's qualified expenditures and Nebraska offers zero, leaving the state for shooting and other work on the film is a logical choice.
When asked what could move the Nebraska film community forward outside of tax incentives, Altman pointed to increased funding from the private sector. The talent one would invest in to make the films, he believes, is here.
"I continue to make my business strong here," Altman said. "Omaha, Nebraska, it is not the film mecca of America but it doesn't scare me to keep fighting."
To hear more from Altman about his thoughts on Omaha's film community, the future of filmmaking in Nebraska, and what he believes the state needs to succeed, view the following highlights from our interview.