An actress known for roles in Click and Soul Surfer, Lorraine Nicholson has quietly been working away as a writer and director of short films, establishing herself as a director to watch. Bringing her tense and engrossing short film Life Boat to Tribeca, the daughter of Jack Nicholson and Rebecca Broussard has demonstrated that she most certainly has the chops, finding herself among a cadre of young female directors making waves at Tribeca this year.
In just 18 minutes, Nicholson manages to establish a world, a psychologically violent tone and an eclectic group of characters—all in the vein of Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment—in what becomes a Lord of the Flies kind of situation. In the film, six teenagers are situated in a program for troubled youths, led on by a tattooed and erratic guidance counselor (Stephen Dorff) and forced to entertain a disturbing thought experiment.
There are three seats on a life boat and twice as many individuals—if given the choice, would you be a martyr, or would you take a seat for yourself and fight for your own survival?
“Elizabeth Gilpin, who’s the star of the film and also the producer, went to one of these facilities. We’re friends, so she approached me and asked if I would tell this story,” Nicholson explained, sitting down with Dorff at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio. “I did a lot of research, interviewed people who went to different schools of this kind, and half of them said, ‘These programs [ruined] my life, I have PTSD,’ and then half of them said, ‘Without these schools, I would be on the streets or worse.’ So basically, I tried to tell both of those stories at the same time.”
A colleague and former co-star of her father’s who met the director when she was only a child, Dorff proudly kept tabs on Nicholson’s accomplishments, as she went through Brown University and went on to pursue her own creative projects. Meeting with Nicholson in Malibu to discuss the short film, Dorff sparked to the material. “I’d never done a short film, so it was a really thin script, and then I was like, ‘Wow, this is an interesting topic that I didn’t really know about,’ and I also liked that one of the people I’d be working with actually had an experience in a situation like this,” the actor said.
“It was two days of my life that we shot, and it was intense. On my way over there though I realized, ‘God, this character has a lot of dialogue,’” he continued. “It doesn’t really stop—there’s not many cuts. It’s one continuous show, and I had to be good, or I’d maybe get a bad call from the big man, your dad. I figured I’d have to show up with my A game.”
To watch the actor-director pair discuss Dorff’s confrontational character—and what the actor brought to the role—click on the video above.