Q-Bits with author Jessica Bruder and Bob Wells of “Nomadland.”

During awards season, there are multiple opportunities for filmmakers and journalists to engage in cinema dialogue. Usually, studios will offer talent connected to films that are being pitched for awards’ consideration. During the pandemic, these events (film junkets) have transitioned to a virtual model allowing more journalists from around the world to connect with film artists. On occasion, we will offer some of these interactions between Elements of Madness partners/contributors and the filmmakers in a new form, Q-Bits. Today we talk with Jessica Bruder, the author of the book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, which was adapted into Chloé Zhao’s Golden Globe-winning film, Nomadland, as well as Bob Wells, who plays himself in the film.

L-R: Director/Writer Chloé Zhao and Frances McDormand on the set of NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Thomas Manning: Jessica, at what point in your research did you discover the work that Bob Wells has been doing, and what has the development of your relationship been like?

Jessica Bruder: I first met Bob when I was reporting the magazine article that led to the book, so that would have been in 2014 when the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous – which you see in the film – was up and going, but it was under 75 people. And if it was over 75 people, no one wanted to know because then they’d have to pay for a permit. So it was a little nebulous in that way. And yeah, I think it’s hard to knock around this culture for too long without bumping into Bob. I ended up there completely by accident. Somebody I’d been interviewing said, “hey, want to come to this thing?” And I said, “sure.” And then it turned out this thing was probably one of the best things I could have stumbled upon. And, it was also something that had brought other people into this life. I know Linda May, who I wrote about quite a bit – her exposure to life on the road was Bob’s website.

Jessica Bruder. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Thomas Manning: Bob, you have a very unique outlook on so many aspects of our human culture. So bringing that into looking at Covid-19, what are some insights you have there?

Bob Wells: We’re living an unnatural way of life. COVID happened because humans are encroaching on nature too much and we forced what few animals are left into a very tight circle. And then we’ve encircled them, and we’re interacting with them. And as we interact with them, we bring their diseases back to us. So, what I’ve learned about COVID-19 is that we are about to run our journey full circle and have done so much damage to the planet that it’s going to start coming back to us on a very regular basis. The climate change in particular, but also pandemics. This is a fact not many people are aware of, but the Arctic is melting because of climate change and there have been episodes of the bubonic plague still living in dead animals, because it’s been frozen all these years, and has come out and wiped out hundreds of other animals. So, the COVID-19 says to me, get ready, some really horrible things are coming.

Thomas Manning: Jessica, as you approach researching and telling the stories of certain aspects of American culture that the general public might not necessarily be familiar with, what are some of the most unique challenges that you encounter in telling the most accurate, honest and respectful versions of these stories?

Jessica Bruder: I mean, part of it is just learning how to do things so you can describe them to other people. I remember Swankie teaching me how to stay warm at night in the van when I was freezing my butt off. I remember all sorts of things – Linda May teaching me how to parallel park something that is 19 feet long, because she used to be a truck driver. So many things. And the great thing about it was that the information I needed was all out there and people were incredibly willing to share it. The challenges of the road were met by what I found on the road, and that was a relief.

Bob Wells. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Thomas Manning: Bob, so many of your lines of dialogue within this film have really stuck with me. I’ve watched the film twice now, and I keep going back to certain ones, especially, “see you down the road.” And I’m wondering, as far as your dialogue goes, how much of that was you speaking directly from your heart and from your own experiences, and how much of it was writing and direction from Chloé Zhao? Or was it kind of a combination of the two?

Bob Wells: There was a combination. She did have some things she wanted me to say, but I was not very successful with it. And I don’t think hardly any of that made it in the movie. Most of that is just me talking because, well, she couldn’t script my conversation about my son. Mostly it’s just me talking.

Searchlight Pictures, Nomadland was released on Feb. 19 in theatres and is available on-demand through Hulu. Nomadland has garnered more honors during awards season than any other film with over 125 combined wins (Best Picture, director, actress, screenplay, cinematography). 

Elements of Madness appreciates the opportunity to engage with filmmakers and the films they create through interviews, critical analysis, and topical engagement and open observation.

Thomas Manning is a member of the NCFCA, and also the co-host of the television show and radio program “Meet Me at the Movies.” He has served as a production assistant and voting member on the Film Selection Committee for the Real to Reel Film Festival. He is currently studying film, television, and English at Gardner-Webb University.

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