Birmingham’s Bill Oliver makes debut as feature film director at Tribeca Film Festival

Birmingham’s Bill Oliver makes debut as feature film director at Tribeca Film Festival
Birmingham's Bill Oliver, left, on the set of "Jonathan" with actor Matt Bomer. (Photo provided by Bill Oliver)

Years ago, Bill Oliver was a sixth-grader at Highlands Day School in Birmingham when his math teacher started a photography club.

“I signed up for that, and that’s where I fell in love with photography,” says Oliver, who went on to be editor and photographer of the yearbook and to start a movie club while a student at Indian Springs School.

Director Bill Oliver, left, on the set of “Jonathan” with actor Ansel Elgort. (Photo provided by Bill Oliver)

Little did he know where that would lead him.

This week, Oliver is debuting his first feature film as a director. “Jonathan” makes its bow at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York on Saturday.

Oliver, who wrote “Jonathan” with his longtime writing partner Peter Nickowitz, describes it as “a science-fiction drama about two brothers who share a secret and what happens when one of them falls in love and begins to neglect their relationship.”

The movie stars Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars,” “Baby Driver”), Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Patricia Clarkson (“The Untouchables,” “The Dead Pool,” “Six Feet Under”), Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer (“American Horror Story,” “The Normal Heart”)  and Suki Waterhouse (“Love, Rosie,” “Insurgent”).

Elgort was cast first.

“I knew him from ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ but I didn’t know any of his other work,” Oliver says. “I saw one side of his character in ‘Fault in Our Stars,’ charming and outgoing, but he was also in ‘Men, Women & Children,’ where he played a very introverted character. We met for lunch and he was just very charming, very smart, very enthusiastic about the project and won me over.”

Casting Elgort helped land Clarkson, a veteran of stage and screen.

“She responded to the script and also had met Ansel at the Toronto Film Festival and fell in love with him, too,” Oliver says. “She was excited to work with him.”

Actress Patricia Clarkson on the set of “Jonathan,” directed by Birmingham’s Bill Oliver. (Photo provided by Bill Oliver)

Waterhouse, a British model-turned-actress, worked with Elgort in the upcoming “Billionaire Boys Club.”

Cast and crew gathered for 22 days in fall 2016 to shoot the movie.

It wasn’t Oliver’s first time behind the camera – he’s shot several short films since graduating from Princeton University and going on to directing school at the American Film Institute – but “Jonathan” is his first feature-length project.

“It was definitely scary, but I felt prepared and made sure I was prepared,” he says. “You do all your homework. You have to understand everyone’s job and be prepared to talk to all of them about it. I did my research, did my homework, did my analysis of the script.”

The Tribeca Film Festival is a big step, and “Jonathan” is already getting noticed. More than 100 feature films are being screened, and the show business publication Variety picked “Jonathan” as one of the nine with the most buzz.

“Jonathan” will screen four times between Saturday and April 28. Oliver is hoping to find a distributor to put “Jonathan” out in theaters, and other film festivals might be in its future.

But for now, the director just wants people to see his movie.

“I’m very happy with it and very proud of it,” says Oliver, who lives in New York. “I’m excited to show it to an audience.”

 

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