By Sara Morris – public relations coordinator Abilene Christian University
Abilene Christian University alumnus Nelson Coates (’84), credits his attitude for landing him the job as production designer for this summer’s blockbuster comedy, “The Proposal.” Coates and his crew planned, researched and produced the entire visual content of the film, which was No. 1 at the box office nationally during its opening weekend.
“It’s all about the can-do attitude. Attitude can really affect a production. If you watch a film and think, ‘It looks like they had fun making this,’ we probably did,” said Coates. “The nurturing environment of the ACU community was a wonderful grounding experience that I carry through when I work with my crew. I feel responsible for creating that same feeling, changing daily the mental attitude of those who work with me.”
In Coates’ 20-year career designing motion pictures and television, he has created the concept and coordinated the execution of sets, props, costumes, hair, make-up, visual effects, creature effects, color palette, symbolism, locations and vehicles for more than 30 productions. Coates is the first ACU graduate to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is also a long-time member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“Dr. Charles Marler, who taught my Communication Law class at ACU, gave me skills and information that I use on a daily basis. When I deal with copyright laws and ownership rights, as well as just that attention to detail that the ACU journalism department instilled in me, I think of Dr. Marler,” said Coates. “There were several people at ACU who had a profound influence on my career, but I use everything I learned there. Nothing was wasted.”
For “The Proposal,” which is set in New York City and Sitka, Alaska, Coates chose to film in and around Boston. He simulated a New York publishing house in a vacant office tower in downtown Boston, changing out signage and bringing in New York City taxis and buses to shoot street scenes, and he created the feeling of southeastern Alaska by constructing a house for the main characters and modifying surrounding buildings.
“I describe my work as narrative design for the moving image,” said Coates. “In many ways I am a cultural anthropologist, creating and infusing a movie with visual clues to back history of the characters, as well as their current life status. Whether creating fake history, recreating exact events or forecasting a future yet to come, my job is to infuse the film with every visual detail to make the environments seem believable and plausible.”
Coates makes it a point to give others an opportunity to excel in the film business that they could not have gotten by themselves, he said.
“There were very few breaks given to me in this business, just because ACU didn’t really have any grads in the business, so I feel it’s incumbent upon me to give people a break. Every show I try to get people in and give them a leg up,” said Coates. “God has been taking care of me throughout my career, and I see an opportunity for good. We need more Christians in the entertainment industry.”