On Monday, A/perture Cinema in Winston-Salem will present a special screening of Summer Night, a wistful coming-of-age comedy/drama in the tradition of American Graffiti (1973) and Dazed and Confused (1993), that follows a group of young characters as they navigate the perils of adulthood and responsibility on a single summer night.

The film marks the feature debut as director and screenwriter for actor Joseph Cross (Flags of Our Fathers, Lincoln, T.V.’s Big Little Lies) and boasts a terrific ensemble including Ellar Coltrane, Analeigh Tipton, Justin Chatwin, Bill Milner, Lana Condor, Victoria Justice, Callan McAuliffe, Melina Vidler, Ella Hunt, Elena Kampouris, Hayden Szeto and Ian Nelson.

Nelson, who hails from Winston-Salem, will be attendance for Monday’s screening, and the film is also scheduled to open at AMC Greensboro 18.

Nelson’s Seth is an easy-going guitarist and best friend of Coltrane’s Jameson. Both are scheduled to perform that evening at the local watering hole, The Alamo. But Seth, who tends to coast through life, is blindsided when he learns that girlfriend Mel (Tipton) is pregnant. She wants to know what he’s going to do about it. For that matter, he’s wondering the same thing.

“I am very, very, very different from Seth, and he’s very different from me,” Nelson observed. “A lot of the characters I’ve played meet me at a very interesting place. Seth’s a little boy growing into a man. He’s had some tough breaks, but he’s got to put those aside and go from ‘victimhood’ to responsibility.”

The scene where he and Mel finally discuss her condition is one that resonated with the actor. “To admit to someone you love that you’ve screwed up, that you’ve made a mistake, that you’ve handled a situation badly, is one of the hardest things to do – and everybody, at one time or another, has gone through that.”

The scenes of Seth performing aren’t faked, as Nelson actually plays guitar. Well, he did – until the demands of his acting career took precedence. Yet when he got the role, he slipped right back into it.

“There was a wonderful guitar teacher named Josh Fletcher, a local musician from Atlanta, who was hired to teach us how to play the instruments, and we worked with some great local bands. A lot of my inspiration was the music of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and Neil Young.”

Nelson even brought a personal element to his playing, borrowing his older brother’s guitar for the role. While the crew would set up, “we would rehearse and jam, and that was great fun. It really kept everyone’s energy up.”

There’s a palpable chemistry among the players, who are effortlessly convincing as friends who have known each other forever. How that was achieved was a combination of many things, Nelson said, beginning with Cross’s script. And as an actor himself, Cross was not averse to giving his actors the freedom to improvise – to an extent.

“To be honest, we all liked each other so much,” Nelson said. “Everyone got along so well. We just enjoyed being around each other, and I think that comes across. Ellar and I had such a special connection. He’s just one of the best people I’ve met in my life.”

On television, Nelson has appeared on such series’ as Teen Wolf, The Deleted, and There’s … Johnny! – the latter a dramatization of the heyday of NBC-TV’s The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, created by Paul Reiser and aired on Hulu, in which he played a production assistant through whose eyes the action unfolds.

On the big screen, Nelson enjoyed featured roles in The Judge (2014) opposite Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall (who earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor), The Boy Next Door (2015) as the son of Jennifer Lopez and John Corbett, and writer/director Rob Mockler’s black comedy Like Me (2017) opposite Addison Timlin and Larry Fessenden. He also fulfilled a long-time dream by writing, producing, and directing the short film Picture Window.

“It was something I always wanted to do, and it was a very difficult task,” he said with a laugh, “but it was such a pleasure. I just loved the collaborative aspect of it.”

Nelson intends to step behind the cameras again and playing guitar in Summer Night rekindled a possible interest in recording an album. But, he noted, “being an actor is a full-time job.”

Although Summer Night has its comic elements, Nelson sees it as more of a drama. “There are a lot of people like in the film –20-somethings and 30-somethings, or any age who just go through life in a mindless, meandering fashion. They’re either stuck in the past or unwilling or unable to move forward. They don’t realize that the only thing that’s real is what’s going on right now.”

In conclusion, he very much regards the film as a career highlight.

“It’s honest,” he said. “It captures really beautifully the nature of friendships. It’s a very cool film, and I’m really very proud of it.”

Wanna go?

Summer Night will be screened 7 p.m. Monday, July 15 at A/perture Cinemas, 311 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem, with actor Ian Nelson in attendance. Tickets are $12. For advance tickets or more information, call (336)722-8148 or visit https://www.aperturecinema.com/.

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.

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