December 9, 2022
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Laurie Richards reflects on her film career — for the State of Nebraska

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LINCOLN — Laurie Richards remembers boarding a flight from Nebraska to Florence, Italy, and then taking five trains before reaching Cannes, France, back in 2013. 

It was an exhilarating adventure, Richards said, to walk a double red carpet at the invitation-only Cannes Film Festival with movie stars from around the world. She went with her husband and a group of friends to watch the film “Nebraska,” directed by Alexander Payne. 

“It was incredible,” Richards said recently. “You know, don’t don’t wait any longer than you have to to do something like this.” 

Laurie Richards and Francis McDormand on the set of “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” in 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Richards reflected on her multi-decade career in film after retiring last month from her role as a film officer through the Department of Economic Development.

Finding film 

Before becoming the state’s film officer, Richards worked as an actress for about 12 years. She acted in plays at the Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater in Omaha and booked roles for television commercials in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. But she always had a passion for film, which stemmed from being a student in the 1970s and attending the Sheldon Film Theater at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Richards began her adventure behind the camera in the film industry almost three decades ago in 1994 as the film liaison during former Gov. Ben Nelson’s administration. She applied for the position after getting the opportunity to work on the movie, “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” as an assistant to the set’s location manager.

Laurie Richards (left) and Cameron Crow (right) on the set of “Elizabeth Town” in Scottsbluff in 2004. (Courtesty of Laurie Richards)

After the movie wrapped filming in Nebraska, the state saw the film industry as an opportunity to diversify economic opportunities and created the film liaison role within the Department of Economic Development, Richards said.

“It sort of found me, and I found it at the same time,” Richards said. “It was a good relationship, for sure.”

The most significant part of the job, Richards said, was managing various locations for films. She said she would hear about development projects through contacts she built in the industry and would help find filming locations in Nebraska. From there, she would be on set to help make sure logistics for filming went smoothly. 

Award-winning films 

Over time, Richards’ network grew, leading her to work with some of Hollywood’s most prominent directors, producers, and actors, including the Coen brothers. The Academy Award winners filmed parts of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” in Scottsbluff. 

Laurie Richards and the Coen brothers on the Oregon Trail during location scouting for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” (Courtesy of Laurie Richards)

Richards has also worked with Alexander Payne, an Omaha native and Academy Award-winning director, screenwriter and producer who filmed scenes of the following movies in Nebraska. 

  • “Citizen Ruth,” starring Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kelly Preston and Burt Reynolds. 
  • “Election,” starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. 
  • “About Schmidt,” starring Jack Nicholson. 
  • “Downsizing,” starring Matt Damon.
  • “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, the film Richards watched at the Cannes Film Festival in France. 

“He’s a very good filmmaker and a very good storyteller,” Richards said of Payne, while highlighting that the Coen brothers are also “pretty cool.” 

The silver screen

Richards said one of the most interesting things about her job was to see the final film on the silver screen. 

“Once you have worked on a film and behind the scenes, on the side of the camera, you’ll never watch a film the same way again,” Richards said. 

From Richards’ perspective, the only way to do so is to suspend your reality a little because you know who is on the side of the camera and all the technical aspects that went into shooting the scene playing on the screen. 

Laurie Richards (front center) on set with Tobiah Powell (far left) and crew for his project “Stanton,” filmed in Stanton and Norfolk, Nebraska. (Courtesy of Laurie Richards)

Still, she said, she enjoys watching the magic and has been able to do so at home, in local theaters and at international film festivals, such as the Sundance Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, and the Cannes Film Festival. 

Richards said she had more approachable interactions with producers, directors and actors at smaller film festivals. 

“You’re all standing in the same area together, meeting each other and introducing yourselves to each other,” Richards said.  

Throughout the years, Richards has connected more professionals in the film industry to Nebraska. She would introduce filmmakers and directors to the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center on UNL, which led to new films being played for Lincolnites to enjoy. 

After almost three decades of helping bring Nebraskan prairies and skies to the silver screen, Richards retired from her role as a film officer. However, she said, she is excited to see the future projects of the film office and will still be around to help if needed. 

“It’s an exciting adventure I’ve been on, and it’s not over yet.” 

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