TNC Film 2023
James Patrick Nelson
WRITER, PRODUCER, ACTOR
For years to come is part of the 25th OUTShine LGBTQ+ Film Festival & at the 9th Series Fest.
April 14, 2023
A gay man falls in love with his dead mother's hospice nurse, while struggling to reconcile with his elderly father...who's secretly a porn director. A new romantic dramedy starring veteran character actor Richard Riehle.
We spoke with writer and star James Patrick Nelson and director Micah Stuart about their project “For Years To Come” and you can find more information about future screenings and other news related to “For Years To Come” here.
Hi James & Micah, thank you for taking the time to talk with us about For Years To Come, congratulations are in order as For Years To Come is going to be screened at OUT SHINE LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2023. What does it mean to you both to have your TV Pilot part of such an incredible festival?
James Patrick Nelson (JPN): It’s so exciting to finally be sharing this labor of love with an audience, especially at such a vibrant LGBTQ+ festival, alongside so much beautiful queer cinema from around the world. All throughout development, as we talked about the story with prospective donors and teammates, there were so many different thematic elements that resonated with people. Some folks were moved by the parent-child dynamic, while others reacted strongly to the protagonist’s struggle to grieve on his own terms, while others were stoked about seeing more nuanced queer representation. So I’m really excited to share the project with a hundred or so folks in Miami and see what resonates most for each of them. Also, I got to say, considering that so much of the venomous anti-LGBTQ legislation and sentiment sweeping the country has originated from Florida, it feels very meaningful and high- stakes to start our journey with this queer-affirming story in that state. And it’s just been announced, we’ll also be screening at SeriesFest in Denver May 5-10! We’re absolutely over-the-moon!
Micah Stuart (MS): We’re very excited about the upcoming festival season. We couldn’t be more thrilled to finally be sharing “For Years To Come” with the world, much less premiering at such a highly regarded LGBTQ+ festival! Making an independent film or pilot can sometimes be such a long process from raising funds, to production/post, to waiting for festival responses, that it’s exciting to finally get to this point. I came on board this project about two and half years ago, so it’s been a long road but actually it’s gone by in a flash. Working with Jamie and the rest of the team has been so enjoyable that the time has just flown by.
Any nerves ahead of the screening?
JPN: It’s always a little nervous-making to screen your work for an audience. You hope they laugh, you hope they’re moved, you hope they receive the story the way you intended it. I’ve spent a lot of my career in the theatre, so of course it’s very different doing the work in front of an audience, versus doing the work and then watching it with the audience a year later. I’d say the latter is more nerve-wracking. But my foremost emotion is excitement. Our producer Jay DeYonker and I both had projects screen in OUTshine two years ago, but that was still peak-Covid-times, so it was all virtual. So I’m thrilled it’s finally possible to sit in a crowded theatre full of people again.
MS: There are always going to be nerves ahead of any premiere, but honestly I’m so proud of the work that the entire team put into this show that I’m mostly just excited to finally be sharing it with an audience. To get to be in a festival like this is really the cherry on top of the whole process.
The reaction to your trailer has been amazing, did you imagine you would get such a warm and welcome response to For Years to Come?
JPN: Like I said before, it was so incredible connecting with folks throughout development and seeing how the story resonated with them, so of course we always hoped (and still hope) that the pilot will move and inspire people. But I’m not surprised at all that our trailer has had such a warm reception, because Micah is an amazing trailer editor! He’s made trailers for some really big studio movies, and won awards for his work on them, so I was absolutely ecstatic when he first shared the trailer with me; I had my hand on my heart and my jaw on the floor and I think I watched it like ten times in a row. I’m so thankful to have such a skilful, awesome collaborator.
MS: As the editing and post-production process of the pilot moved along we really started to feel like we had created something special, but you never know how people will respond, so it was quite exciting to get such a positive response. I think there was also something very reassuring about editing the trailer because it all came together so well in a commercial way. We could step back and say, wow this looks like something I’d want to watch if I saw the trailer on HBO.
Where did the inspiration for For Years to Come originate from and was it always intended to be a limited series?
JPN: Some elements are true to life. When my mother was dying, I found out my father was a porn director! For years, I knew I had to make something out of that wild story. Almost a decade ago, I tried to explore it as a play, and then as a feature screenplay for a while, and then right before the pandemic, I started rewriting in an episodic format, and that’s when so much of it started to crack open for me creatively. I felt like I had more access to the humour, the queerness, the sensuality, and even the more internal nature of some of the conflict. And the story was always supposed to be about the unpredictable personal ups-and-downs of grief and how it manifests differently in each individual, so of course that theme suddenly felt a lot more timely and relatable during the pandemic.
Had you always intended on playing Johnny?
JPN: Yes. I am an actor first and foremost. I’ve been working in Off-Broadway and regional theatre for many years, and recently started doing more indie film. Acting is what I plan to continue doing most throughout my life and career. That said, it’s been truly rewarding the last couple of years building my own work, assembling creative teams, and cultivating a more multi-hyphenate artistic identity. I have recently written a few feature films that are not intended to showcase me as an actor, but “For Years to Come” always originated from my actor impulses as much as my writer impulses, and the character has always been a close analogue to me and a lot of my personal experiences. We’re all very hungry for authenticity, so there are a growing number of actor-writer-creators out there, doing what I think is some of the most dynamic work on TV (Abby McEnany, Michaela Coel, Mae Martin, Mark Duplass, Ryan O’Connell, to name only a few).
"...with this project, and most of my work, the specific events are largely fictionalised, but the themes and emotional elements and relationship dynamics are very grounded in real life."
- James Patrick Nelson
When writing a series like For Years to Come do you draw inspiration/characters from your own personal life or do you try to keep a distance between reality and fiction?
JPN: It’s always a little bit of both. The romance with the hospice nurse character is fictional. Although a lot of the interplay between his character and mine derives from real life perspectives on love and relationships. Meanwhile, the story about how my father used to be a porn director is true, but the plot point about him revisiting his old profession is fictional...as far as I know. Now, that plot point is only lightly hinted at in the pilot, treated really as a cliffhanger to entice folks to pick up the series and help us make more episodes.
So in general, with this project, and most of my work, the specific events are largely fictionalised, but the themes and emotional elements and relationship dynamics are very grounded in real life. And of course, one of the most beautiful things about this art-form is that an emotional theme or sentiment can be true for millions of people’s lives, even if their given circumstances are very different. So, fingers crossed, we hope the story, as personal as it is, will resonate with a whole lot of people.
During the process of writing For Years to Come what were some of the things you discovered about yourself as a writer and the type of work you want to be creating?
JPN: Writers are always told their story needs to have conflict, and while that’s true of course, I think manufactured conflict-for-conflict-sake is really tiresome for me as an actor and a viewer. So I like to think I’m getting better at letting the conflict arise naturally, letting myself discover it along with the characters, letting it be much more internal at times, and letting it feel seemingly irreconcilable, so the characters and the audience are going through an experience together, instead of writing histrionic conflict where an emotionally intelligent audience is already five steps ahead of the character and knows right away how they would solve the problem.
And of course, I think all of that went hand-in-hand with finding more of my authentic voice as a writer, and trusting that my lived experiences and perspectives have a lot of narrative fodder, and that I don’t need to manufacture ideas that feel distant from me, but that I can really show up and be vulnerable and tell personal stories.
What can be done to continue to platform queer romantic dramadies like this?
JPN: That’s a very good question! Lord knows, the streaming/distribution landscape is changing minute-by-minute. So much of it comes down to each company’s assessment of risk and reward, how they allocate marketing dollars, etc. It’s very mysterious. Of course, we’re still looking for the right collaborators to pick up this project and make a full season, so all the fingers crossed, we’ll have more knowledge within the next year about how a queer dramedy show gets platformed.
One thing I can say for sure, I want to see more shows with queer protagonists. So many programs have one token queer character in a large ensemble, and I find myself speeding through 5 hours of a show, looking for 10 minutes of queer content. Our show features a queer protagonist, his queer love interest, and an ensemble of mostly queer supporting characters. And yet, the characters’ queerness is never the conflict. Their queerness is a beautiful inevitability, and then the conflict is about—How do I grieve someone I’m not ready to grieve? How do I reconnect with my parent as a fellow adult? How do I live more intentionally, knowing I’m going to die someday? How long do I have to wait after a tragedy before I’m ready to dive into something joyful again? These are questions anyone can relate to.
“For Years to Come” features the prolific actor Richard Riehle who also appeared in Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin”. How did you go about pitching this project to him?
JPN: We worked with the remarkable casting director Kimberly Graham (“Homeland,” “Before Midnight”) and she made an offer to Richard Riehle. I also wrote a personal letter to Richard, to accompany the offer. I’d heard him speak about loving the intimate character-work you can do on independent films, and I really thought he’d be great for the role. It was such an honour and pleasure to work with him, he was so humble and generous and easy to talk with, and he struck such a perfect balance between humour and pathos, and I’m really looking forward to making more episodes with him as soon as we can.
It’s funny you mention “Mysterious Skin”. I had seen that film, and loved it. And of course, his character in that movie is nothing like Wally in “For Years to Come,” but his scene in “Mysterious Skin” is very similar to a short film Micah directed called “Johnny” about an older man picking up a gay prostitute and going to a hotel room. I first reached out and connected with Micah after I saw that short film, and then because it always reminded me of “Mysterious Skin,” I think that’s what first got me thinking about Richard.
Looking back what would you say was the most challenging scene to write and to shoot?
JPN: Such a good question. It’s been a while, but I suppose the hardest scene to write was probably the argument between Johnny and Wally on the couch, right before the midpoint. Like I said before, I never like having conflict purely for it’s own sake. I wanted this fight to be something that would cut deep, but that you felt they could both find a way to recover from, because neither of them was seeking to start a fight in the first place. They love each other, and they want to reconnect, but Johnny’s inquisitive nature puts Wally on defence, and he ends up saying things he doesn’t mean. Some of the high-stakes content of this scene was originally much later in the story when I explored it as a play, so it was challenging to bring it this far forward, to raise the stakes of the pilot, while still presenting characters who mean well and feel just as motivated by internal conflict as by their conflict with each other.
And I suppose the hardest scene to shoot might have been the very first scene we shot, between Johnny and Edward on the bench. The first scene is always challenging. This was an exterior scene with a lot of dialogue that shifts the direction of the plot and greatly informs the lead character’s arc, and we happened to be shooting it on a morning when there was a really frigid winter wind blowing in our faces. I’m so thankful to our whole team, especially the folks in the sound department, that we found a way to make it work. They really are miraculous!
MS: From the production side, I’d have to agree with Jamie! That very first day was tough. Wind, ducks, construction, we had it all!
Being writer, actor, and producer on this project how much flexibility did you allow yourself with the screenplay?
JPN: A fair bit, I would say. It was constantly being revised and tweaked throughout the development and pre-production process. Even up to a week or so before filming, I did a big rewrite of the Johnny and Edward sequence. Originally, only the first two of their scenes took place in the park and the next two scenes were supposed to happen in a bar, but when we couldn’t find a bar location that seemed practical and cost-effective, I reimagined the sequence with all four scenes taking place in different areas of the park, which was such a blessing, not only for the time and headaches it saved us, but because we got to end the whole sequence with the sun setting on the water and the geese flying by in the background. It was so romantic!
How essential was the creative collaboration between you both whilst working on For Years to Come?
JPN: Completely essential. I’m so incredibly thankful for Micah’s kindness, patience, enthusiasm and immense talent and generosity. We connected on zoom way back in 2020 and developed this project together for a year and half before finally meeting in person in LA for pre-production and production. Micah was instrumental in so many areas of the process, and then for every aspect of the project that I spearheaded, I felt confidence in doing so because of his steadfast faith and support. Like we said before, so much is uncertain in this business, and I knew the one thing I could control and be really intentional about was building a team of people who respected and affirmed and lifted each other up, so that we could have a great time together making something we love, no matter what happens after that. And that process of building a lovely, supportive team, it all started with Micah.
MS: I would say having great collaboration couldn’t have been more important. This is an extremely personal story to Jamie, his DNA is infused into the very core of it, so from the outset it was clear that bringing this to life needed to be a creative partnership. And I was thrilled at the prospect because Jamie is a wonderfully talented and imaginative person, so of course I fully welcomed and honoured his vision. But the beautiful thing was that I felt so much trust from him during the process, he gave me the reins to freely navigate as a director.
Have you always had a passion for writing, acting and directing?
JPN: I think so, yes. I’ve always written things, whether they were plays, essays, short stories, or poetry. For the longest time I hesitated calling myself a writer because I have so many friends for whom that is their primary defining focus, the way acting has always been for me. But acting is a strange art – unlike music, poetry, or painting, so much of the “business” of acting has to occur before the creative work can really get started. So I really love working as an actor and writer in tandem, because it makes me feel like a much more proactive and generative artist. And “For Years to Come” has really inspired me to keep going in that direction.
MS: For me, directing was actually something that took me a while to work up the courage to pursue. It felt like something so big and intimidating, like saying you’re going to be an astronaut, that I wasn’t sure if I had what it took. When I started directing I had already been an editor for years and had been using that as a film school of sorts, reverse engineering how to make a film. As a director, that background in editing has always been crucial for me. It helps me visualise how everything will fit together and gives me the confidence on set to think on my toes when there are inevitably curve balls thrown my way and things need to be reimagined.
What have been the biggest changes in your filmmaking approach since your debut film?
JPN: Every day, I’m consciously and deliberately letting go of the hierarchy mentality that so many actors are taught: the idea that you’re at the bottom of the food-chain and you have to say yes to every opportunity, grasping for attention from “more powerful” people, which in my experience can often stifle creativity and lead to misguided collaborations. Like I said before, I really want to empower myself and the people I love to make the work we know we want to see in the world and tell the stories we know need to be told. I want to work with people who respect each other, who are kind to each other, who lift each other up. And I feel way more confident than I used to that it’s well within my power to do just that.
I would also say that I’m way more unapologetic about my queerness in my work. I look back on a few scripts I wrote a while back, that didn’t work out so well when they got bought and produced, and one of the most striking things is that as different as those projects were, in terms of genre and scope, the original spark for both stories was deeply rooted in my queerness, but in both cases I suppressed that, and the films suffered as a result. We still live in a world where a lot of people talk about queerness as a detriment to success, and I’m so keen to disrupt that narrative. Ever since I made the decision that the protagonist (in literally any story) could be gay if I wanted him to be, I’ve been writing more often and more joyfully than ever.
MS: I consider differently the kind of stories I want to tell. I’m more acutely aware of the limited time and resources I have, which means being more intentional about what I pursue. Choosing stories that not only are entertaining but have a positive impact on the world is something that’s become more important to me.
Micah you’re currently working in your feature WEST, are you able to give us a little preview of what we might expect?
MS: When I was 14 my parents got divorced and my mother took me on a three-month road trip across the country. It was just meant to be a little escape, but what we didn’t know was there was a deadly tumour growing in my mother’s stomach and that journey would change the course of our lives forever. “West” draws from that experience and tells a coming-of-age story not only about myself, but also of my mother and that transformative time in her life. It’s a film about finding your personal truth and following your inner voice to greater freedom.
Finally, when audiences watch For Years to Come what is the message you hope they take away with them?
JPN: I’d say one of the big take-aways is that there is always happiness and beauty on the other side of grief. In the pilot episode, it almost feels like Johnny has found it, like his optimistic nature has lead him to this beautiful new romance with a man who helps him heal and gives him hope for the future. Of course, what he’s going to learn is that you can’t get to the other side of grief without first walking through it. Johnny is so defined by his optimism, by a spirit of “I’m not gonna grieve, I’m gonna live,” and that toxic positivity is eventually going to tie him up in knots and make it harder for him to sustain real relationships, until he finally learns that you can’t numb sorrow without numbing joy. But all of that is still to come!
MS: Losing someone close to us can sometimes be a sudden and stark reminder that we need to make the most of our time here. There’s a scene in FYTC in which Jamie’s character recites a quote from Thoreau, saying “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”, and it’s a sentiment that I think he carries with him throughout the story. I hope that audiences find inspiration in this sincere and joyful character living his life vividly and seizing every moment in a wholehearted and passionate way, because I think we can all use the reminder from time to time to treat life as a gift.