Nabil Elderkin is no stranger to being behind the camera. From directing music videos for Billie Eilish and Superbowl commercials for Morgan Freeman to capturing striking photos of Kid Cudi and Nelson Mandela, Nabil is the mastermind behind some of the most iconic visuals of the 2010s and now he’s taking his talents to film.
GULLY is a raw, coming of age film set in Los Angeles and follows three childhood best friends Calvin, Jesse, and Nicky; played by Jacob Latimore (The Chi), Kelvin Harrison Jr (Waves, Monster), and Charlie Plummer (Lean on Pete, All the Money in the World). As they try to navigate their trauma within their sunken community the best way they know how: with drugs, alcohol, and violence. The trio encounters some heavy roadblocks along the way where they tragically learn that running away from your problems will only bring you closer to them.
Nabil’s directorial debut gets bold and dark while it explores spirituality, poverty, mental illness, and sexual abuse. The film also features Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country) and Amber Heard but the star-studded lineup doesn’t end there. You’ll find random yet amusing cameos from rappers Travis Scott and Vince Staples to lighten up the mood before diving into some heartfelt performances from Robin Givens, Terrance Howard, and DeRay Davis.
The film was written by Marcus Guillory about 7 years ago before it was handed off to Nabil to work his magic on. It premiered in 2019 at Tribeca Film Festival and is now showing in select theaters but will be streaming on-demand tomorrow, June 8th. We checked in with Nabil before the film’s release to talk about his transition from music videos to cinema, the epic soundtrack, and how big names like Travis Scott and Vince Staples found their way into a low-budget, indie film.
The Knockturnal: Was directing a film something you ever saw yourself doing? As a director for dozens of music videos, did directing a film come easy to you or were there a lot of new things you had to quickly pick up on and learn during the process?
Nabil Elderkin: Yeah, I did. I started out as a photographer and from that came music videos and some commercials. I think my goal was always to make a movie subconsciously. It’s not like I went to film school or anything, but you evolve to different progressions and I think film was the next progression.
I did a documentary called Bouncing Cats around 2010 in Uganda and that was my first venture into long-form (video). Then I was watching all these movies like City of God, The Game, and Life is Beautiful and thought “Man, it would be amazing to make a film.” It’s just one of those natural things that happened and I’m grateful I got the chance.
I did a lot of videos in a short amount of time and I was doing a lot of low-budget videos, like $5,000- $10,000. So, it came from the grind of getting a lot done in a short amount of time and that prepared me. Especially since this is a small, independent film. The budget was relatively tiny. So, that gave me a limited 21 days (to finish the film). But, it worked for this film in creating a tension of movement.
There’s so much that people don’t understand comes with the passing of time. You’re shooting over 21 days but the hair has to be the same, you have to shift and pivot even the script. Looking up the sky and hearing a thunder cloud because it’s going to rain and it wasn’t supposed to do that in the script. It’s creating things that make it work.
The Knockturnal: You’ve said you immediately knew you had to make GULLY when you got the script, were you also sold on who you wanted to act in it? How did the cast come together?
Nabil Elderkin: I had some say in it. Jonathan Majors was somebody that another friend of mine linked me with. When I saw (the script) and met him, I was like “This guy is amazing.” Same with Charlie Plummer. I met him years ago when he was super young and I was like “I don’t know, he might be too young,” but it was one of those things with timing. By the time we could actually get funded, he was older and he fit the role.
The rest of them just came organically. I remember seeing Jacob (Latimore) do a reading a long time ago as well and he blew me away. It came full circle and worked out. The rest (of the cast) came towards us wrapping up the film.
Travis (Scott) has always been a part of it, he’s an executive producer. I wanted him more in the film but he got really busy and we just tried to find a role that fit with his schedule. Also, Vince (Staples). One of the producers, Corey, manages Vince and it was one of those last-minute things that was kind of cool.
The Knockturnal: Sometimes filmmakers may see themselves in their characters, was that the case for you? Is there a specific character that you feel a special connection to?
Nabil: I think there’s little pieces of me all over the place. I’m still working on myself in this moment in life and this film really helped me through that journey. I kind of grew with the film as I was making it. There’s a beach scene (in the film), I grew up by the beach and I remember 10 years ago I was in Compton shooting something for The Game when he first came out. I remember going to take photos of some of his friends and having a conversation with one of them and one of the biggest things he told me that was shocking is how he had never been to the beach.
And I was like “You said what?! The beach?” and I remember him saying he hadn’t been more than 16 blocks from here. It really just blew me away. A lot of people haven’t been given the understanding and knowledge that (the beach) is such a healing place. There’s a lot of systematic things too, how locations are designed to keep people from venturing outside of what they know.
The Knockturnal: It’s safe to say that making videos has become second nature to you and music videos are basically like mini-films because they tell a story in about 3-4 minutes. But you expressed how nervous you were to see people’s reactions to GULLY. Is it because it’s your first future film or are you always that nervous when it’s time to release a something you’ve worked hard on? Are critics a major concern of yours when working on projects?
Nabil Elderkin: There’s a lot of factors that came into that. I was in a different place. I stopped drinking since then! To be honest, I was pretty afraid of people’s reactions. It’s a pretty polarized film and it’s my first movie. I decided that I wanted to make something bold that starts a conversation. I’m more in alignment now to have that conversation.
I do get nervous but I’m less nervous now. I’m a little more confident in my abilities. Everything I try to do, I try to make something that speaks to people and you’re always being judged by what you make so there’s some level of being nervous. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It keeps the spark going and keeps you on your toes.
The Knockturnal: Now that you’ve got your first film out the way do you plan on doing more in the future? Where would be your ideal places to film?
Nabil Elderkin: I’m gonna take a hot second and relax. I’m developing some TV and other movies; so, in due time. Two of the projects are in Jamaica and another one is based around Native Americans. Some of these (films) I’m just coming in as a producer on. I always want to be in involved in storytelling and I’m sure I’d love to make more things. My goal now is to get (GULLY) out and have a moment to relax. I’ve learned a lot from the filming process of this movie that will make the next one a lot easier.
I definitely want to shoot more in Jamaica, Brazil, the Middle East because my Mom is from Iran. There are so many powerful stories from all over the world and I’m really inspired by movies like Babel that brought different people from different places together in a film. Something like that would be awesome.
The Knockturnal: You’re no stranger to working with artists and you’ve grown with so many of them since the beginning of their careers like Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and The Weeknd. So, I’m surprised this is your first time working on a soundtrack. What can we expect from that?
Nabil Elderkin: I’m super excited. There are a lot of collaborators and people I’ve worked within some aspect. I really pulled a lot of favors and leaned in to the people I’ve collaborated with, and tried to put something together that worked within the framework of the film.
The soundtrack is available on all streaming platforms and features artists like Ty Dolla $ign, 21 Savage, Dua Lipa, and Miguel just to name a few.
To support the film’s message, Nabil has also teamed up with Kids of Immigrants to curate a special line of merch to benefit the Surf Bus Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the ocean to help empower inner-city youth. Visit www.gullymovie.com to purchase and find out more.
Watch the trailer for GULLY below: