Exclusive: How This Michael Shannon Music Video Became a Jeff Nichols Short Film

Photo: Lucero

“It really felt like at some point, I was gonna have to direct a Lucero video,” laughed Jeff Nichols. The 39-year-old Nichols isn’t a music-video maker by trade — he’s better known as the director of feature films like Mud, Loving, and Midnight Special — but since his brother Ben is the front man of the acclaimed band Lucero, Nichols knew that a collaboration between the two of them would have to happen someday. “It was inevitable!” he said.

Still, it took a while. Lucero released their ninth album, Among the Ghosts, last month, and while listening to it, Nichols found himself beguiled by the haunting song “Long Way Back Home,” which tells the tale of a mysterious criminal. The short film inspired by that song is below, and Vulture is premiering it exclusively.

“It deals with things I’ve been dealing with in my movies for a long time,” said Nichols. “It’s a story about brothers, and it’s about people of a certain socioeconomic class I’m always drawn to.” And, like the director’s other movies, the video for “Long Way Back Home” stars Michael Shannon.

“I’m very fortunate that Mike Shannon returns 99 percent of my phone calls, but I still get nervous asking him!” admitted Nichols. “I hate asking for favors. It’s one thing when you’re making a movie, but this was a unique request.” Fortunately, he said, Shannon was an easy sell: “I asked, ‘Do you want to be in it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, can I get some free Lucero tickets?’”

Nichols originally planned to make “Long Way Back Home” as a nonlinear montage of Shannon walking around Memphis, but his plans grew gradually more ambitious: After writing a short screenplay for the video, Nichols corralled actors like Garrett Hedlund, Scoot McNairy, and Paul Sparks to take part, too. “It became less of a cool, random project I was gonna do with my brother and Mike Shannon,” said the director, “and it turned into, ‘Oh no, we’re actually producing a short Jeff Nichols film.’”

Ironically, the story that Nichols spun for this collaboration with his brother pivots on a potential fratricide: When Shannon’s character comes back into town, he’s searching for his brothers Hedlund and McNairy, and he may have something malevolent on his mind. “Is this guy gonna kill his little brothers or not? Maybe he kills them, or maybe he loves them,” mused Nichols. “You’re not sure.”

And if this eight-minute short feels a little bit like a trailer for a feature-length story, Nichols said that’s by design.

“I would be thrilled if the boards fill up with, ‘Wow, I want to see this as a movie,’” said Nichols. “That would be great because, oddly, I really want to know what happens after the last scene! We talked a lot about it on set, and it was kind of hilarious to hear everybody’s conclusion of what happens three seconds after it cuts to black. But I would 100 percent make that movie.”

See an Exclusive Michael Shannon Music Video by Jeff Nichols