Nathan Ross Murphy will release his latest film, The Indignation of Michael Busby, on September 15th on Vimeo.
It’s the award-winning Memphis filmmaker’s first official comedy. “There have been comedy elements under the surface in a lot of things that I’ve made,” says Murphy, 34. “This is the first outright movie where I could say, ‘This is a dark comedy.’”
The short film “navigates a couple of twists and turns as far as the plot goes. And genre. Very unexpected. To best sum it up, a daydreaming cubicle worker who contemplates another lousy day at the office. We get to see some characters that he runs into on his daily routine and they’re not too nice to him.”
Murphy plays the title role. “It was a challenge to myself. Which I wanted to do. I love character acting and just breaking out of the mold that is myself and becoming a different person. This guy is pretty far away from me. Might be the farthest away from any character I’ve ever played. He’s very timid. Life is constantly stepping on him. I guess I can relate to that one, but I think he wears it externally, which I don’t.”
“Timid” is not a word anyone would associate with Murphy. The Indignation of Michael Busby is his fifth film. “I’m almost done writing my second feature script, but it’s going to be the first feature I’m going to get off the ground. Carriers. It’s a supernatural ghost thriller drama.”
A native Memphian, Murphy began drawing and painting when he was “a little baby,” he says. “That’s still a hobby. I don’t do it as much. Most of my focus is on filmmaking.”
Murphy, who wrote and drew comic books as a child, created “Sky Carter,” a “dumb little kid” who mistakenly is given powers from “the universe control center.” “He’s kind of an imbecile, but he’s got these powers. It was like a funny comic super hero thing.”
Murphy also was “just a huge movie bug. I always loved the experience. I loved the theater.”
He decided to become a filmmaker when he was five years old after he saw Jurassic Park at the old Winchester Cinema. “I remember leaving the theater. It was the first time I couldn’t tell the difference between what was real life and what was fake in a movie. Jurassic Park blurred the lines for me. I thought that T-Rex could come through the screen. I had never seen anything so frightening. It terrified me, but excited me at the same time. It was such a mind-blowing experience.”
Murphy knew having something to do with movies would be his life. “Whatever that was, I wanted to do something with it.”
Movies became more of “a learning experience” for Murphy, who wanted to know “how to achieve this shot, check out different perspectives.”
He also became fascinated with cameras. “All we had were the portable cameras. Disposable. So, that’s what I grew up with. But I would try to work on photography with those.”
Murphy also shot movies with his mother’s video camera. “I didn’t have any editing software, so I would film a take and hit ‘stop’ and I would pick up from another angle and start filming again. And try to shoot it like it was edited. So it would all run together.”
He always acted. “I would ‘act’ in the mirror all the time. I was doing that since I was a little kid. Really, just studying movies and picking up on the little bitty things. Really good acting, you have a control over the tiniest movements in your face. What you build, put together to make a performance, is a series of those little movements. It’s a matter of trying to master those physically. Determining when to use what movement, what expressions.”
His acting experience is “a culmination over the years of staging all kinds of movies, all kinds of different actions, different expressions, and trying to figure out the merits and work on myself for my stories. What experiences I want to attach to these characters. I think it’s been a life-long process studying it. I’ll never stop studying it. There’s too much to learn.”
Murphy began writing movie scripts in middle school. “I would write about adventures with my friends and stuff. A lot of it was working on the craft. The wording.”
He played soccer, lacrosse, and rugby in high school, but Murphy wasn’t a big fan of school. “It just felt like prison to me. I was creative outside of it, but I spent most of my time in school just wanting to get out of there.”
Murphy considers Space Licorice, which he made when he was 25, his first actual movie. He acted, directed, and wrote the film. “It was this extra terrestrial parasite movie, but it was very trippy. It was abstract. Kind of a scary movie as well.”
Extraterrestrials take over the body of Tobias, who was played by John Dylan Atkins. He ends up cutting off his arm, which releases an "alien worm-like organism." “It was a pretty bloody scene.”
Murphy, who played a “man in black,” says it was “up in the air whether I was real or a figment of his imagination” because of Tobias’s hysteria.
“I’m really big into space and astronomy. And horror as well. I’ve just always been fascinated by it. I love learning about space and just the unknown. And I think that’s what attracts me to the supernatural elements, the unknown. I find it so fun. The ‘what if.’ Unexplored territories.”
Like all of Murphy’s movies, Paul Vinsonhaler did the music score to Space Licorice. “Paul is incredible. He’s our local Hans Zimmer. I think he’s the best composer ever. He’s just so talented. Paul has been my best friend since seventh grade.
“When I was working on my film journey, Paul was teaching himself music production and composing. He is all self taught. His very first score was my very first movie.”
Space Licorice earned Murphy the Audience Favorite Award at the 2014 Indie Memphis Film Festival. “I was pretty blown away because I wasn’t expecting that. I never am. Especially being my first film.”
Whether he won an award for not, Murphy knew he’d continue making movies. The award was “a step further on the path that I wanted to be on,” he says. “So, I was happy with it. But I took that knowledge and everything I learned making that film and I now could apply it to the next one and make it even better.”
Murphy didn’t just act in his own films. He was in the 2011 motion picture, Losers Take All, which was filmed in Memphis. “I was the jock, the bully in that one.
“It took place in the ’80s, so I remember the makeup lady saying, ‘Give him the ‘Kevin Bacon.’ That’s what they did to my hair. It was fluffy, puffy.”
Describing his scene with Kyle Gallner and Aaron Himelstein, Murphy says, “They end up saying something I don’t want to hear, I don’t appreciate too much, so I beat them up. And that’s pretty much the gist of it. I’m your typical ‘80s jock. Like I would have gotten killed in an ‘80s horror film really quick.”
Murphy describes Bluff, the next movie he wrote, directed, and starred in, as “a heist that goes wrong and everybody starts scheming on one another. Double crossers. You can’t trust a thief. That’s another kind of dark comedy. It starts out like a serious movie and then it kind of takes a turn.”
He plays “James” in the movie. “He's just one of the thieves. He’s got his own agenda like everybody else.”
Murphy likes to “throw people off” in his movies. In Bluff, he says, “I wanted people to feel like they just walked into a movie theater like an hour and 10 minutes late and everything was just getting ready to climax. And that’s how it starts off.”
He played the lead role in his next movie, Muddy Water. “That’s about a homeless boxer who is trying to get back in the ring, trying to get another fight. And you see there’s something else going on with him. He seems to be off mentally.”
Though he boxed with friends when he was younger, Murphy trained for his role. “As soon as I started training I realized, ‘Oh, I don’t know anything.’ I had zero form. I was terrible. My idea of boxing was, ‘Oh, I’ve got boxing gloves on and I’m punching.’ But I was very wrong.”
Muddy Water earned Murphy his second Audience Award at the 2016 Indie Memphis Film Festival.
That same year, Murphy played the antagonist in Katori Hall’s short film, Arkabutla. “I got to do a one-on-one scene with Khalil Kain, which was great because I grew up watching him. He was in Juice with Tupac (Shakur). He couldn’t have been kinder. He was wonderful. Crazy talented and a joy to work with. We rehearsed lines together and got to grab some sushi. It was pretty surreal.”
Murphy, who along with Eddie Hanratty runs a movie production company, Nimbus, has been keeping busy during the pandemic. He currently is working on Echoes, a short film he began in 2018. “It’s about this couple and a soldier freshly back from Vietnam and they run into some extraterrestrial phenomenon. They come across a flying saucer in the ‘70s and they actually get abducted. The movie picks back up in modern day and we see what has become of them.
“That movie stars Joe Adler, who is from Grey’s Anatomy, the new season of Twin Peaks, and Maze Runner.
He plans to release Echoes, which also stars Daisy Davis and Keith Johnson, around Halloween. “It’s kind of spooky and it’s got some pretty cool sci-fi elements to it.”
Murphy also has been keeping busy working on the script of his feature film, Die Kreatur. “It’s German for ‘The Creature.’ That’s a creature feature that’s actually first in a series I hope to make one day.”
He’s been “focusing on editing and writing,” Murphy says. “I’m holed up in my room in my house doing this stuff. I’ve been pretty productive through all this. I wrote Die Kreatur and I’m almost done with my second script for Carriers. Hopefully, that will be my first feature film I direct. I want to start production on Carriers next year.”
Making short films has “always been a struggle,” Murphy says. “The stories that come to me naturally are very hard to tell in short film format. So, one of the biggest problems I’ve faced is trying to condense the stories into a film size that’s affordable. Which is a bummer because I end up having to sacrifice a lot of my story to fit into this one mold.”
And, he says, “I think any one of the movies I’ve made should have been a feature, but I work with what I have.”
He continues to act. His most recent project was playing “Paul Carlson” in Bluff City Law, which was filmed in Memphis. “I played a paramedic who hides some evidence. American Pandemic. Episode 7. That was just kind of a nervous guy. He threw some evidence under the rug.”
Murphy enjoys acting, but it’s not his main priority. “I love acting and I love the art form, but I don’t have to act in my stuff. It’s not as important to me as telling the story. But I think the acting that I’ve learned and the acting that I’ve done helped me big time in the directing. Being able to understand the actors and help them get the best version of the character. That’s come in handy. I feel like because I know I have a lot of experience acting I feel I can better help them navigate through the characters.”
As to whether he wants to stay in Memphis, Murphy says, “I would like to make my first feature here. I’d like to make Carriers here. But I’m not against going any place. I’m pretty wide open. The future is open.
“I’m really one of the go-with-the-flow, easy-type of people. I want to make movies. I want to make features. I have these stories in my head. Now they’re in scripts. I just want to be able to tell them.”
To watch The Indignation of Michael Busby, click here