Tag Archives: Creative Director John Gawley

Nebraska in Black and White

June 29, 2015 by

Article published in May/June 2015 Omaha Magazine.

I was one of the millions of rabid Breaking Bad fanboys and girls who tuned in for the inaugural episode of Better Call Saul, the show’s prequel that follows sharp-tongued and ethically challenged attorney Jimmy McGill (alias: Saul Goodman).

Here at the magazine, there was extra excitement to see that first show. Some months back, our creative director, John Gawley, received a call from the show’s producers. The series begins where Breaking Bad left off—with Jimmy in his new life-on-the-lam managing a Cinnabon in Omaha (very long story). For this opening scene, producers wanted an Omaha Magazine sitting on the counter of the Cinnabon to, you know, make the Cinnabon look like it was in Omaha (it actually isn’t).

At two minutes and 28 seconds into the first episode—as Jimmy stands at the counter watching what could be a U.S. Marshal or cartel enforcer approaching him—you see copies of Omaha Magazine sitting on the countertop display.

Check it out online. You might have to play it in slow motion, squint, rewind a couple times. But I swear it’s there—three whole seconds of big-time screen time (Or 1/300th of one’s allotted 15 minutes of fame).

What was obvious from the first second of this opening scene, though, was a free plug for us, was actually a pretty harsh dis on Omaha. Most notable: The Nebraska scene is shot in black-and-white—not that Ansel Adams “capture the essential beauty” type of black-and-white, but rather that less-defined black-and-white that adds up to the grays of a Nebraska February. Jimmy had been banished to a colorless purgatory called Omaha.

Lighten up, right? Already have, I promise. It’s art, and it’s damn good art. Period. Same with Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, shot in a black-and-white that also ended up saying gray. It fit. It worked. But, argue all you want, Alexander: It was still a dreary and depressing landscape.

When Nebraska isn’t being shot in black-and-white, it is most often shrouded in overcast winter grays. Same diff, at least for me. Until being corrected recently, for example, I had remembered the Academy Award-winning Boys Don’t Cry, based on the murder of Tina Brandon near my hometown in southeast Nebraska, as having been shot in black-and-white. In fact, it’s a color film, I was reminded.

Fascinating. In my own mind, I had turned that movie black-and-white, likely because it matched my emotional response to the film. And, in my defense, the film certainly rarely ventured from gray.

It actually was Omaha filmmaker Nik Fakler who corrected me about Boys Don’t Cry. But Fackler, the director of Lovely, Still, a color film based in Nebraska starring Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, agreed that the mood of Boys Don’t Cry fits the historical stereotype of this landscape.

“The themes of Nebraska from the beginning have been bleak loneliness, Fackler said. “It’s an endless cold island in the middle of a vast lonely ocean of plains. There are no mountains, no jungles, or oceans.  Its emptiness and nothingness.”

Fackler himself went to the jungles of Africa to shoot his latest film, Sick Birds Die Easy, which may be the American film most unlike Lovely, Still. It’s a wicked fevered acid trip of a film—a sort of Fear and Loathing in Gabon. It’s probably wise that Fackler’s artistic doppelganger avoided choosing Wahoo for the film’s location.

But, he’ll likely be back when his mood and the mood of his subject mellows.

“In Lovely, Still, I tried to make Omaha quaint and colorful,” he said. “But being bleak and lonely is just Nebraska’s wheelhouse” for many people.

There is another overused stereotype, he noted. But, we tend not to mind this one as much: Nebraska tends to be perceived as “simple,” he said. “It’s not glamorous. But that is its charm and I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. To me, it’s just all about the poetry you put behind it.”


Omaha Magazine Wins 2015 Great Plains Journalism Award

April 14, 2015 by

Photo above: Director of Photography Bill Sitzmann, Creative Director John Gawley, Managing Editor Robert Nelson, and Senior Graphic Designer Kristen Hoffman with our award-winning cover at the 2015 Great Plains Journalism Awards ceremony in Tulsa, Okla.

Omaha Magazine won best magazine cover at the prestigious 2015 Great Plains Journalism Awards, one of five categories in which the magazine was named among three finalists.

The Great Plains Journalism Awards annually recognize the best newspaper and magazine journalism in an eight-state region comprising of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. The awards were presented during a luncheon April 13 at The Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, Okla.

Omaha Magazine won the top award in the Magazine Cover category for the January/February 2014 Best of Omaha issue, executed by Creative Director John Gawley, then-Junior Graphic Designer Paul Lukes, and Ben Lueders of Fruitful Design.

We received two of the three finalist slots in the Magazine Cover category. Gawley and Director of Photography Bill Sitzmann were nominated for our November/December 2014 cover featuring local radio legend Otis XII in a story written by Managing Editor Robert Nelson.

Nelson himself was a finalist in the Magazine Profile Writing category for his July/August 2014 cover story on then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and again in the Magazine Column Writing category for his September/October 2014 “The Closer” column, titled “Slogan Explosion.”

Sitzmann was recognized for his portrait of Jeff Toma accompanying the story “The Handyman Diaries” in the January/February 2014 issue of Omaha Home. That story was written by Executive Editor David Williams.

Mike Lang and Corey Hart of Spectral Chemist were recognized for their video supporting our September/October 2014 story “Cricket: The Grandfather of Baseball is Making a Comeback in Omaha,” written by Robyn Murray.

“I am proud of our talented staff and we are honored to tell the stories of the people of Omaha,” Omaha Magazine Publisher Todd Lemke says. “It’s great to be recognized by our peers as being right up there with the best of the best in an eight-state regional competition where Omaha Magazine was the only Nebraska magazine recognized as a finalist—let alone a winner. We also congratulate the Omaha World-Herald for their strong showing at the awards.”