Best of 2018

In no particular order, <>nsb’s 20 favorite films of 2018. If we had to pick only one, Spider-Verse would probably be it, but Buster Scruggs is darn close.

  • Widows

  • Sicario: Day of the Soldado

  • Upgrade

  • A Quiet Place

  • The Happytime Murders

  • Bad Tims at the El Royale

  • Avengers: Infinity War

  • Game Night

  • Isle of Dogs

  • You Were Never Really Here

  • Mary Poppins Returns

  • Lowlife

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

  • Paddington 2

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

  • A Futile and Stupid Gesture

  • Damsel

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Films that didn’t quite make the top 20 include

  • Apostle

  • Black Panther

  • Pacific Rim Uprising

  • Blockers

  • Deadpool 2

  • Won’t You be My Neighbor

  • Tag

  • Hereditary

  • Incredibles 2

  • Sorry to Bother You

  • Mission: Impossible: Fallout

  • Christopher Robin

  • BlackKklansman

  • Halloween

  • Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

And films I didn’t get to before the clock struck midnight

  • Annihilation

  • The Death of Stalin

  • Revenge

  • First Reformed

  • Woman Walks Ahead

  • Blindspotting

  • The Sisters Brothers

  • Venom

  • A Star is Born

  • First Man

  • Mid90s

  • Hold the Dark

  • Mute

  • Roma

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • Suspiria

  • Bodied

  • The Front Runner

  • The Favourite

  • If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Vice

The Cars of The Bagman


As important as the costumes, the prop guns, the location, were the cars we used in the Bagman. Each car told a story for their character just by being there, never moving, always present.

Cabron (Andrew Prescott) drove a steel gray 1989 Toyota Pickup. Rusted out in some places, it was still a reliable way to get from point A to point B. The Pickup is a symbol of the hard working American, and the fact that it’s a Japanese import speaks to the growing obsolescence of his place in the criminal underworld, being overtaken by the Mexican drug cartel.

Amigo (Rodrigo Carballo) drives a classic light camel 1980 Chevy El Camino. Also showing its age, the El Camino presents a desire to be better than the character actually is. It has style and is reliable, but is rough around the edges; hard to love at face value. But there’s definitely something special there.

The two cars are parked facing opposite directions, mirroring the characters’ differing point of views, and the colors, likewise, mimic the skin tones of the actors.

Special thanks to Andrew Johnson for donating the Pickup, and Ryan Olsen for donating the El Camino to our production. Both turned out to be exactly what we needed

Languages of The Bagman

When writing the original script treatment, I quickly realized that there was an element missing. I was presenting two characters who were at each other’s throats and yet similar in circumstance. Two sides of the same coin and at war with each other though they had never met. Because of the set up, I also knew that there would be very little on screen movement, both due to stylistic concerns, but also logistically: These two characters literally can not move. The rise and fall of momentum would be pushed only by the dialogue. The classic indie film’s dilemma. How can I express their differences clearly? They say the most obvious answer is usually the correct one, and that certainly became true to me. These two men speak different languages, though they understand one another, and through stubbornness refuse to yield that small victory over the other.

Cinematic Influences of the Bagman

 “The Bagman Died First” is an example of what I call a Neo-Western, or a western, with all the themes and trappings, set in the modern day. So while I consider it a fairly pure distillation of “Mike Johnson” there were a lot of cinematic influences that got us there, and these are just a couple.


1. Reservoir Dogs (1992) directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino, despite and sometimes because of his faults, is a huge influence on me. His writing style and visual choices, his use of homage (or rip-offs), and his subversion of genre are all things that I aspire to do as well. Specifically, though, both Reservoir Dogs and Bagman take place, primarily, in a single location with tough bad guys talking tough. And the black suits with bright red blood are especially and specifically similar.

2. Breaking Bad (2008-2013) created by Vince Gilligan.

Breaking Bad and its descent into the underworld of drugs and violence was almost a how-to guide on how to fashion criminal relationships. Drug deals in wide open, yet remote places? Check. Also, the character of Amigo (played by Rodrigo Carballo) was originally named Filiberto Salamanca. And the character played by Edwin Garcia is named Héctor. Héctor Salamanca is a character in Breaking Bad played by Mark Margolis.

3. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) directed by Sergio Leone.

Arguably the gold standard by which westerns are judged, OUaTitW is an influence on everyone. And if it isn’t, it should be. Our color pallet and framing choices were direct homages (rip-offs) of this film. Also not surprising is the pre-title card “Once Upon a Time... In the Midwest” is also dedicated to this film.

4. The Searchers (1956) directed by John Ford.

There is one big, specific influence that this film casts, other than being one of the best westerns ever made, as well as one of the most poignant treatise on race relations of that era. The shot pictured of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) framed in the doorway, forever outside and left behind by the world as it moves on. Our primary setup mimics this shot, framing Amigo in the doorway of his car, with Cabron (Andrew Prescott) outside and separated from him. This highlights the differences in the two of them and it isn’t until they begin to see eye to eye that we see them in a different light (pun very much intended).

5. No Country for Old Men (2007) directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

This is the film that people most tell me Bagman reminds them of, and that is no accident. The entire concept came from a rewatch of the Coen Bros masterpiece, wondering what had happened in between the time that the drug deal went wrong and Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) showed up. There are many more things I homaged (ripped-off); modern setting, location choices, etc. But the main thing is the concept itself, and I therefore owe it the largest debt.

So there you have it, the five biggest influences on “The Bagman Died First”. There are many more, of course. For those of you who have seen it: What did you see? What did I miss? And for those of you who haven’t, check back in on this post next week after you do and let me know.

Night of the Short Film

Not only do Belgians have great taste in beer and waffles, but apparently also neo-western short films from Nebraska. Night of the Short Films in Antwerpen, Belgium (our second Belgian festival) said that while we did not make it through to the short list of finalists to screen at their event, they liked Bagman enough to send us some laurels as an official selection.


Semi-Finalist LA Cine Fest!

Bagman is an Official Selection and Semi-Finalist in the Los Angeles Cine Fest! If we are chosen as a Finalist (we find out later this month) we will get an LA Premiere in January. Excited for this one. 

#tbt The Posters of <>nsb

Today I wanted to talk about some of the posters I've designed for the four completed short films produced by No Seatbelts Productions. I often joke that I make movies just to design posters and, well, it's hard to argue against.

Top Indie Film Awards results!

The results are in for the Top Indie Film Awards and we are overjoyed and humbled by the news. We won Best Writing and were nominated in Directing, Acting, Cinematography, and for Best Overall Short. It’s been a long crazy journey and stuff like this makes it worth it. Not awards or accolades, necessarily, but that people “get” what we did. Thank you all!

Top Indie Film Awards

We are super excited to announce that we are an official selection for the Top Indie Film Awards competition. Stay tuned later this month for final Nominations and Awards!


New Music Video - Live now!

Official Video for "Gethsemane", a single off of blét's new album "Suddenly Able to See in the Dark".
You can find blét and buy their album at
You can find nsb at

Directed by Michael Johnson
Cinematography by Matt Patterson
Special Thanks to and Assistant Camera by Mark Thimijan
Shot on a Sony Alpha A7r III in Lincoln, NE

New Music Video

Some of my favorite shots from the music video shoot last weekend for Lincoln-based band, Blet ( Hard at work getting this ready in time for their new album release at the beginning of May!

Film Festival #6

Just got word that we are Officially Selected to take part in the Sioux Empire Film Festival in Sioux Falls, SD May 18-19. More details to come but we are beyond excited to showcase Nebraska’s stuff to our filmmaking cousins in the north.


#TBT Black Lines

I would kill for a pop right now.
— Neil May
The first page of the first draft of "Neil May Grieve" (Later called "Black Lines") circa 2006

The first page of the first draft of "Neil May Grieve" (Later called "Black Lines") circa 2006

Photo credit Shae Sackman June 2013

Photo credit Shae Sackman June 2013

Often as filmmakers an image pops into our head and then won't go away until you make it reality. Black Lines came from that singular image. What if a person, in a moment of solitude, told the universe that they would be willing to commit murder for a refreshing soft drink and then immediately after inadvertently caused the death of a passerby? How would a person's psyche survive that? These were the questions we were attempting to ask and answer with the original script. It later morphed into something more human (with a gay psychological love triangle and a drag show) and slightly less philosophical, but the original image remained the same. 

Black Lines marked a new direction for <>nsb and ultimately the end of our first chapter. The filming and subsequent final product is one of the things director Mike Johnson is most proud of, particularly that opening tracking shot and this shot


bts photos

Bagman nominated for Best International Film!

More good news for “Bagman”. The Move Me Productions Belgium Film Festival not only accepted us as an Official Selection but nominated us for Best International Short Film! 

Awards and nominations for "bagman"

we heard again from the Tokyo based film festival Genre Celebration festival and they had some good news for us  

We got Best Western and Rodrigo Carballo was nominated for Best Actor! So incredibly proud of the work we did. Thanks everyone! 

International Film Fest Selection

 “Bagman” is now an internationally recognized short. Officially Selected for the Genre Celebration Festival in Tokyo, Japan! The event is in December and there are several rounds of selection to go but it’s still very exciting. 


Official Selection to the Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival

OFFICIAL SELECTION - Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival - 2018.png

We are pleased to announce that "The Bagman Died First" has been accepted to another film festival! The Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma! The Festival runs April 24th-29th and we are so excited to be there. 

For more details, check out Bare Bones on Facebook or online.

<>nsb's favorite films of 2017

We tried to narrow down this list to a manageable ten (or even fifteen) but it was a rough year and <>nsb truly believe we find solace on screen, so why excise any single film we enjoyed out of recognition in order to satisfy some arbitrary metric? We believe all of these films deserve to be recognized in one way or another.

These are not sorted in any order other than color of the poster. Chromatic organizing is something <>nsb is super into right now.

As always this list exists without having seen a few films. Those include Phantom Thread, mother!, Hostiles, Molly's Game, I, Tonya, Beach Ratsand The Shape of Water (which if we see this coming week, we fully expect to love, so expect an update.)