By Rick Bentley
The Fresno Bee
Nelson Greaves went to Harvard to study English with plans of going into law or medicine. He didn’t take either path but turned a high-school pastime of making movies into his career.
Greaves is the writer and producer of the new horror film “Unfriended.” The movie looks at a group of friends who have their computers taken over by an entity on a deadly mission of revenge. What makes this movie different than the standard horror film is that it’s shot as if you’re looking at a computer screen. The audience gets an online peek as the friends chat and die via Skype.
“I hope after you see the movie, you think a little bit more about what’s on your home computer. You jump when you get a Skype call,” Greaves says. “It should cause you to take a step back and think about what you are doing online.
“Where we live is largely on a computer. That’s why people will connect with the movie. They will see their life on the screen.”
Greaves knew it was a challenge to make a movie where there are scenes without dialogue and the audience follows a mouse being clicked around the screen. He focused on the drama taking place in those Skype boxes to keep the audience’s interest.
“We all have these little stories about something that happened online. To now, it’s not found its way to the screen,” Greaves says. “This movie is the first of its kind.”
He had limitations, but he says that since the audience can see beyond the screen, there’s an uncertaintly about what exists on the other side of the computer screen.
“Unfriended” is the first feature film written by Greaves. His interest in making movies wasn’t apparent at Clovis High in Clovis, Calif., where he participated in mock trial and played trumpet in the band. He was also part of student government.
Those who knew Greaves away from school saw he spent his free time making videos, a practice he continued at Harvard.
The journey from Harvard to horror started with Greaves landing a summer job as an intern for the film companies Lionsgate and Universal (the company distributing his film). Mostly, he got coffee and ran errands. But the unpaid job gave Greaves a chance to watch the film business from the inside.
After college, he started working for Timur Bekmambetov, director of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” The director kept pressing Greaves to write a script about how everyone uses computers. It wasn’t until Greaves hit on the idea of making it a horror movie that he finally started writing the script that would become “Unfriended.”
Greaves felt a little guilty about spending so much time making videos while at Harvard (a discussion point often with his parents). Now that “Unfriended” has been made, he feels better about the time spent behind a camera.
“Unfriended” is the first feature film script Greaves has produced, but he also wrote two episodes of the Fox series “Sleepy Hollow” this past season. Greaves penned the tales while working with his writing partner, Sam Chalsen, whom he met at Harvard.
When it comes to writing for the TV show and having his script turned into a major motion picture, Greaves doesn’t point to his Ivy League days as being the biggest part of his success.
“I think I have had a real advantage coming from Fresno. Many people in this industry are from Los Angeles and New York. They don’t have any experience in the dirt where real human drama takes place,” Greaves says. “I am proud to be from Fresno.”