Join our conversation with Nicholas Harvard, the Director of Las Cruces filmed production "The Locksmith," as we chat about filming in New Mexico and all the great activities to explore when not on set.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Nicholas Harvard. I came to New Mexico to direct my first movie, "The Locksmith." I grew up in Los Angeles. I have been working in the film industry for about 20 years as an Assistant Director, and I've come through New Mexico quite a few times - very happy to make movies.
What made you want to get into film?
I grew up in LA but was not associated with the film industry. My mom was a chef, my dad worked in corporate pension stuff, but they were both cinephiles. They both grew up loving watching movies, and so they really introduced me to the cinema at a very early age and took it a step further to just appreciating older films and more obscure films. They made it more than just entertainment, they made it a hobby. And so I did that as a kid, which turned into a bit of a passion as a teenager.
It turned into more and more of something I wanted to do. I figured it out kind of early. I was in my early teens when I put two and two together, like, oh, yeah, you can turn this into a career at some point. So I started making short films when I was 16, and then went to college and studied history, but I was always interested in film and worked on short films. I ended up working on features while I was in college, and then it just snowballed from there.
What is your favorite thing about producing and directing films?
My favorite thing is being involved with the filming process. Every day is different, every project is different, and every crew is different. So I've had this incredible opportunity in my adult life to meet hundreds of incredible people and work on projects from all walks of life and all genres, and I've been able to travel the world. So it's that urge to explore and discover that's inherent in the film industry. At least the film industry is, as it is now in the modern age, where we've come out of the studio backlots and the sound stages. That's really my favorite part about it, the collaborative process and not being stuck in the same office every day, day in and day out. The office is the world, and it's a challenge, having the office be out in the world can be difficult, but it keeps it interesting.
What have been some of your favorite projects that you've worked on?
Well, it's strange because I've got favorites for different reasons. Sometimes it's the people you work with, sometimes it's the content, and sometimes it's experience. Sometimes it's the finished product, and it's all different, it's all kind of wonderful. But, you know, I was the Second AD on "The Hurt Locker," too many years ago now to count, but that was the hardest thing I'd ever done, and probably the hardest thing I've ever done since. It was almost an impossible movie to make, and it's one of the best things I've ever been involved with as far as the quality of the film we made, the audience it reached, and was recognized by our professional peers. It's one of the highlights of my career. But, you know, looking back on the experience, although I met some incredible people and have friends from that production, to this day, it was so hard. I'm not going to go as far as say I have PTSD from it, but it was really, really difficult. You often find that to be the case, the really, really hard ones end up being the best ones. For some reason, sweat equity gets directly translated to quality.
It goes back to what you were saying before, where everything's a new adventure. Having those types of experiences, or even the collective experience, that you have with those peers that have brought you significantly closer. It makes it that much more impactful?
Absolutely. Yeah. One of my favorite cinematographers, one of my best friends in the world is Michael Fimognari. We've done a few movies together. He's a director now, and we have this thing every once in a while when it's four in the morning and we're standing next to each other under a rain machine or something, whatever the worst version of working in the film industry is, we just look at each other and we say, "why do people make movies?" Then you get to see your work on the screen and peer recognition for the completed project and it really comes full circle for you.
Then you see that scene, and it's beautifully backlit, and the rain is beautiful. Maybe that was worth it. It's still something like bleary-eyed on the second week of nights in the cold. I also can't complain. There are plenty of people who do much harder jobs than we do. So it's perspective. It's like anytime I tell my whole crew, anytime you hear me complaining too much, just look at me and remind me that it's better than digging ditches, and I'll do the same for you.
You just recently premiered "The Locksmith," which was filmed in Las Cruces, New Mexico. What motivated you to want to tell that story?
I'm a massive fan of the noir genre, I grew up on the Bogart-McCall pictures from the classic Hollywood era, but also from the French New Wave guys. I was looking for a gritty crime drama that I could set in that genre. That script came around, and it was almost there in the world, and the producers were kind enough to give me a really long development period. We wrote, rewrote, and rewrote and found something that seemed like it was worth making, and that's where we ended up. It was a long development process to find something that felt that was in a genre that I could feel at home in the wheelhouse we were seeking.
What made you want to choose New Mexico to be the location for that story?
Funny enough, it was initially set in central California, which is not an easy place to shoot for a lot of reasons. Anytime you're out of LA or San Francisco, California becomes less attractive. Just not much infrastructure - it’s a big state. Very, very vertical, and in between some of the most beautiful landscapes and great towns and great people, but not a whole lot of crew and not a whole lot of camera rental houses, not a whole lot of casting people.
So, it quickly became apparent that we were gonna have to retreat to LA or San Francisco, which were just too big, and finding a small-town feel in those places is tougher. You really have to go outside of the urban development of it all. When we looked at other states, New Mexico came into focus pretty quickly.
I'd spent quite a bit of time in New Mexico, I AD’d "Hell or High Water," based out of Albuquerque. I'd been on a few other projects, and I just knew even in Albuquerque, you can drive 30 minutes and get a small-town feel pretty easily. So that was where we initially talked about shooting. Then, I went to look at Española for a bit, then my line producer, Daniel Cummings, who is now in Albuquerque local, had done a few movies in Las Cruces and had suggested Las Cruces as a place that had some crew that was off the beaten path, but was also big enough to support a crew our size and movie our size.
I took my rental car and drove down there, and it was bigger than the town in the story we were telling. But it's not so big that we couldn't create that town out of what was available. So it ended up being perfect for us.
While filming here in New Mexico. I know it's hard to get time away from set, but what were locations or places that you enjoyed visiting when you weren't working?
Well, I'm a bit of a nature buff and a national parks geek. So, I went hiking in the Oregon Mountains a lot with my dog. She loved it. I was only able to get out there once, to my great chagrin, but I've been wanting to go to White Sands since I was a teenager. So being out there and so close was a no-brainer. The history nerd in me was annoyed that I wasn't there for the biannual Trinity site visit. It's just being so close to so many great natural focal points.
What did you think of White Sands?
It's everything I had hoped it would be and much more. It's a strange alien landscape, unlike anything I've ever seen. A lot of my friend group now knows that I've spent a lot of time in Southern New Mexico and they ask. What should I see and I say, "whatever you do, before you leave Southern New Mexico, go to White Sands. It's unbelievable."
I grew up in LA, in Venice Beach, four blocks from the water. I grew up surfing and sailing. I was a competitive sailor, I spent a lot of time on the water, and I had a similar feeling that I had that I still have when I'm experiencing the ocean of the zen that you feel with faced with the enormity of the ocean, the infinite horizon you get that same sense of disorientation and transcendence when you're walking through White Sands. The second you get over the first hill, and you don't see your car anymore, I would have to retrace my steps because every little round looks a bit the same. If you turn 20 degrees, it could feel like you're going back the way you came, but you are not at all you're going off in a different direction. It's wonderful and hypnotic.
Did you get a chance to experience our chile while you were visiting?
I did. Yes. I had had it before. I'm a big fan of Mexican food, so by extension, New Mexican food is something I very much enjoy. The incorporation of the chili is something that I pretty much indulged in quite a bit.
So we have to ask then, red or green?
Christmas. I thought that was just the simplest, most brilliant thing to describe. I love saying it. I think it's so witty. It’s Christmas.
What advice would you have for anybody who's trying to get into film or wants to get into the industry? What are some tips or tricks? Or, things that could be very beneficial for them?
I would say the film industry is a vast and beautiful thing that offers many opportunities that are so different from one another. You can probably find something you would love in any of those departments. What people see from the outside is the glitz and glamor of directors, actors, and producers, and that's all fantastic. But they're also incredible trades and great career opportunities in all the other aspects of it, from cinematography, to sound recording, to construction, and editing. It's a really fast world that has some great stuff for everybody. It's funny, I was like, “If I had to do it all over again, is there's something else I'd be interested in?” Camera operators have a great job. I look at scenic painters, I have so much admiration for scenic painters, their process, and what they do. It's so cool. It seems like it's a good time. The process of perfection of a matte painting. However, we don't really do matte painting so much anymore, not physical matte paintings, but even the way they age things are, it's so cool. There's really something for everybody.
I would encourage anybody looking into film careers to look deep. Trying to become a director is very, very difficult, and it's very, very possible, but you need to have a very specific skill set and interest level in things that are important. A lot of those things would not interest most people. I think that's what you can take away from it, is that directing a movie, most people see some of the behind-the-scenes, or the red carpet, and the glamor behind it, but what they don't see is the two years of developing scripts and trying to get actors attached. Then, when you finally get there, the 14-hour prep days of going through every single prop, going through every single location and having to deal with the problems that arise.
It's not always fun. It's a job. It's a great job. It's a fulfilling job, but it's really hard. It's very rewarding, but it's not necessarily meant for everyone. Same with acting. Same with producing. Same with cinematography. A lot of cinematography is you're there, you're putting the lights and all that, but during prep, you're managing a bunch of departments and ordering lights, it's a lot of work.
So, if you want to do it, you must be passionate about it. That's what I tell all the kids I talked to in high school, or college, just make sure you're really into it and try different things. Pick up a camera and shoot, and learn cinematography. Do some art department stuff, do costumes, do everything until you've exhausted the idea of what it is to make a movie, and go down the path that you're most attracted to because that's how you'll succeed in just doing something that you love.
Finding your purpose because those long days and the work that goes into it can end up being so daunting that if it's not bringing you joy, it's not worth it.
Absolutely. I also tell people the film industry is like joining the circus. You have to understand that when you decide to join the film industry, you decide on the type of life you're going to live. That life includes a lot of travel, for the most part. So, a lot of being away from home. A lot of living out of hotels, and you have to be okay with the fact that you will be away from your family and friends for a lot of your life.
Trying to have a family and a partner or marriage, the industry puts a lot of strain on all those things, and you have to be prepared. Especially if you're already in a lifelong partnership. It can wear on relationships, and you can find the relationship that can work within those parameters. But it's a real thing that most people don't know or understand.
You also touched on it earlier, the diversity of jobs that are actually on set. You have somebody who could possibly be passionate about construction, not thinking that film could be an industry for them, too. You have such diverse skill sets on set that you can bring in so many different types of people. Some may not even recognize that film could be an opportunity for them in their trade that they're even currently in.
Absolutely. I mean, you mentioned construction, One of my cousins married a man, and he was a builder. He was a construction guy and called up one of the companies that provided scenery for certain films, operas, and theater. He knocked on the door one day, saying I have all these carpentry skills, and they were like, come on down. He's now had a 30-year career. He's a construction coordinator in film and TV just out of curiosity. He used to work on construction sites, but now he's, you know, a big-time construction coordinator.
What projects are you working on? Or what might we see from you in the future?
Well, my directing career, we're still working that out. We've got a lot of interest now after "The Locksmith." My producing partner and I do, so we're trying to find our next project. In the meantime, I'm in New York City right now. I'm reunited with my "Hell or High Water" director, David McKenzie. We're making a picture out here. We'll see what comes. I just finished a series with Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie that shot in Española. So I couldn't stay away. New Mexico keeps calling me. So good stuff is coming.
Congratulations on your directorial debut of "The Locksmith" and the recognition you're getting, We appreciate you choosing New Mexico to make your film. We hope that we can continue to bring you back on more projects.
I love it out there. Any place I can take my dog and a mountain bike out on the weekends with that kind of scenery gets my vote. Leaving aside all the advantages of how to shoot, like, the beautiful stuff we can shoot there. What I can do on my weekends makes it all worthwhile.
As we're growing our industry here, I think that is going to be a big selling point for us, too. You're spending hours on end on sets, so the time that you are not at work is really valuable. New Mexico has an excellent quality of life.
Indeed. It's like not to throw any shade on New York City, where I am right now, but I'm not enjoying my weekends as much.