The First Man
Role: Writer, Director, Actor, Editor, VFX
It's a normal day in the life of the first man…until he encounters the first woman. The First Man is the third short film I've directed. 2021.
Festivals & Accolades
January 14th, 2022 (Online Premiere)
Moss Rock Preserve, Birmingham, AL
Written & Directed by
Director of Photography
The First Man….......Nicholas Coker
The First Woman…...Joely Peterman
The Barbarian..............Kaleb Dillard
Original Score by
Editing & VFX
Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe After Effects
Story & Director's Notes
The greatest privilege of making student films is the affordability—thanks to school resources, gear, crew, and potentially actors are all free. After graduating, the first hurdle I faced was dealing with the fact that for independent films…this is not the case. With that in mind, I began to think, "How small can I go? What could I make with no set and minimal crew, actors, gear, production design, and costumes?" The answer was a little silent comedy surrounding the romance between a caveman and a cavewoman.
The script to The First Man was a hard one to nail down. In the first draft, there was no Barbarian; we were to witness The First Man eat the rabbit he strikes with the rock; and The First Woman would fall for The First Man merely after he offered her flowers. A lot was missing. After much revision (mainly thanks to Seth Farmer) the script—in which all The First Man's flirtatious efforts fail, and he only wins the heart of The First Woman by vanquishing a foe—was found.
I knew that at some point I wanted to act in my own films, and The First Man seemed like the perfect opportunity to start doing so, since the character has no lines, and since my goal was to spend as little as possible. The First Woman would be played by my real-life girlfriend, Joely Peterman, and The Barbarian (who's billed in the script as "Mean Caveman") would be played by my old high school theatre buddy Kaleb Dillard, with whom I was unexpectedly yet delightfully reunited in 2021. Seth Farmer, who served as the Director of Photography for my first two films, Drawn to Campus and Night of the Living Date, switched over to Co-Director for The First Man—he'd pick up the slack when I was in front of the camera instead of behind it. The role of DP was filled by Reagan Wells, an incredibly talented classmate of mine at the university with whom I had somehow never worked, but who would end up being my roommate later in 2021.
The costumes in the film were designed and constructed by my stepmom Angie Gaskins. Angie had made the caveman costume for me to wear the previous Halloween, so the costumes for The First Woman and The Barbarian followed its style precedent. I told Angie that I wanted The First Woman and The Barbarian to appear more "evolved" than The First Man. Therefore, he wears no shoes, his tunic has only one shoulder strap, and it is mended together with rugged "patches." They, on the other hand, do wear shoes, and their tunics have two shoulder straps, as well as other more polished details.
By making up the cast and crew with family and friends, I was able to save immensely on production costs—each of them agreed to participate out of their own interest and a for free meal. Reagan also had access to an equipment library from his then-employer, which helped us save immensely as well.
The day we shot the film felt like the hottest day ever. Or…perhaps that's just because I was wearing a tunic made out of furry blankets all day! We filmed at Moss Rock Preserve, a state park in Hoover, Alabama, which, while it has no true caves, features beautiful woods, impressive cliffs, and a little stream that wound up looking gorgeous on screen.
Unlike my previous films, The First Man features an original score, composed by Nathan Stephenson. I told Nathan that I wanted a mainly percussive sound, with no strings and minimal winds. Nathan therefore wrote the score mainly for vibraphone, xylophone, and timpani. The more complex instruments heard are piano, flute, and (albeit only once) tuba. Joely Peterman leant her voice to the score as well. While Nathan created a theme for both The First Man and The First Woman (which are countermelodies to each other), he also used instruments to represent each character: The First Man is usually a vibraphone, The First Woman is usually a flute, The Barbarian is fierce drums, and the peaceful woods are piano. According to Nathan, it's the only score he's ever written comprised of only three chords!
The First Man is aptly titled as it turned out to be an experience full of many firsts for me: my first time making a non-student film, acting in my own project, creating my own VFX, and having an original score composed for it. Overall, the experience was incredible, and I am so grateful for all that I learned along the way. I am also immensely grateful for those who made it happen—the role of a director is really just to assemble a talented team, and to get out of their way and let them do their thing. I could not have been blessed with a more talented team, and their generous contributions are what made the film what it is.
Like my other films, The First Man is a story about a misfit finding his place. But ultimately, it sees a young male become a real man—thus the title. It is my goal as always for the film to inspire and bring joy to whomever sees it. This world is filled with too much unpleasantness, and even film festivals, with hours upon hours of depressing or cynical content, can become difficult. The First Man is meant to be a break—where viewers can enjoy a sweet and simple film that tells an honest story well. Above all else, I hope it makes you smile.