Local nominated for second Emmy
It’s high-brow reality television, says Nicolas Brown of his Emmy-nominated PBS program “Colonial House.” “Colonial House” marks Brown’s second Emmy Awards nomination, as the PBS series “Frontier House” received a nomination in 2002.Brown spent the first 20 years or so of his life in the Vail Valley. He attended kindergarten at the church in Vail, he went to school in Minturn after that until high school, where he graduated from Eagle Valley. He worked as a ski instructor during his late teenage years.Brown currently lives in London with his wife, Lisa Colaco.”Vail’s always been where I grew up, so it’s just part of you. And, the toughest thing is actually being away because I have to be in a major metropolitan area to do the kind of work I do. I’m sure everyone who lives in Vail is keenly aware of that choice,” said Brown. “I miss the mountains all the time, especially this time of year when I used to go fishing up in the Gore Range and with ski season coming up.””Colonial House” took 26 colonialists to Machiasport, Maine, to re-create a village based on early American communities – circa 1628. The series spanned a five-month period of colonial lifestyle, and drama ensued.”Reality television is a big spectrum. There are a lot of things that people are very familiar with, but it’s still got a very populist appeal,” said Brown. “A lot of reality television works to a great degree because people talk about it. They may hate the shows, and they may hate the contestants. They may say, ‘Oh God. I can’t stand reality television.’ It had a very pure start; it was very cinema verite. It’s observational documentary, so at its roots it’s just observing people.”
“Colonial House” premiered in April. It is scheduled to run its second showing on PBS in the near future.Brown’s current project is a drama-documentary for Discovery Channel. It’s the story of the first people to discover America, and it’s based around an archaeological paper and new evidence.”Traditionally, the belief has been that America was discovered by people in the Stone Age who came across the Bering Land Bridge. But, more recent evidence is suggesting that people may have come as much as 6,000 years earlier in the Ice Age from Europe – from France, essentially.”Brown’s work on “Frontier House” fell to “The Osbornes” at the 2002 Emmy Awards. This year, the notable show in Brown’s category is “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.””That’s just television. PBS struggles against all the other networks because it’s public-funded. Essentially, it’s a poor cousin. The ‘House Series’ has been, of late, probably their biggest flagship series,” said Brown. “We rest on the fact that we think that ours is at least – being PBS – very worthy. It may not be as entertaining, but it’s educational.”
History of ‘House’There has been a series of shows similar to “Colonial House” and “Frontier House” that began with a PBS program called “The 1900s House,” which was set in England and taught people to live as they would have in the year 1900 in a Victorian terraced house in England. “That show was quite successful, and led to a few other series – the most popular one being the ‘Frontier House,'” said Brown. “So, ‘Colonial House’ was an idea that grew out while we were doing ‘Frontier House’ because the people involved in ‘Frontier House’ didn’t really form much of a community. They were all a bunch of ranchers from separate homesteads who were kind of at each others’ throats, which was pretty realistic, actually, given what modern-day Montana is like.”So, Brown and company developed “Colonial House” on the idea of American community as they began with the models of some of the earliest colonial villages in New England.A village was built in Maine for 26 people in to live there for approximately six months.”We explored the ideas of community and of religion in this program,” said Brown. “The shows that I worked on were particularly focused on those things – about crime and punishment, religion, order of society, how to create a society, how were the first American societies created and what were they trying to do. And, of course, the modern participants sort of lend their own interpretations to that, and live their own experiences of that.”Of the eight shows, Brown directed two; the first and the third show. He also worked as a cinematographer and in various roles on other episodes.
“Frontier House” marked Brown’s introduction to the “House format.” Aside from the obvious difference of historical time and place, Brown found many differences in the social nature of the two projects.”‘Colonial House’ was a community activity; communal, though communism wasn’t around then. The idea was that you belonged to the town and worked for the town and it was the good of the community,” said Brown. “A lot of the ideas that were being explored, revolved around community structure and togetherness and achieving things as a team. Whereas, the frontier spirit was all very much of the rugged individual. The sort of lone homesteader, cowboy rancher, entrepreneur.”The characters that we had – the people who were involved – were very different. There was a big religious split in between the people who believed in God and the people who didn’t, which was a conscious choice that we wanted to explore because people who would have come over in 1628 would have been very religious. They wouldn’t have anything else in terms of a world view,” said Brown. “Their idea – the Puritans, at least – was to set up a city on a hill, a city of God; to rebuild Jerusalem in America.””Colonial House” found plot in the heavy difference between vision and reality. The colonial societies were born from a notion that with a fresh start, they could create a perfect society.”In many ways, that’s what we were encouraging our participants to do. Of course, one of the biggest things that gets in the way – and interestingly, more so than class difference; money was not the dividing factor – was religious belief,” said Brown. “For example, there were people who were more than willing to become indentured servants in the ‘Colonial House,’ but they weren’t willing to advocate any religious freedom or right to believe. No one was willing to go that far. The differences were often about philosophy.”
More on Brown in VailBrown was exposed at an early age to filming and the outdoors of the Rocky Mountains.”I’m an anomaly in London among the art circles because I’m a person who’s very outdoorsy and does a lot of what people might consider extreme, or outdoor sports. I guess it’s having that background that has effected my films,” said Brown. “Like the ‘Colonial House,’ for example, which is about people living very primitively and essentially outdoors most of the time. And, filming that requires a lot of outdoors skills and tolerance.”Brown also credits his father, filmmaker Roger Brown, who did many of the early films for Vail.”He worked with his father, of course, in the editing room as a little boy. He thought this was the cat’s meow that dad could run around in shorts and be in his garden and on his cell phone and swim and have his legs up on the desk and at the same time travel the world making award-winning movies,” said Brown’s mother, Monica. “So, he kept telling his friends that he would be a filmmaker too.”Brown’s brothers, Mike and Gordon, are filmmakers as well.
“Mike’s climbed Everest three times now, and went with Eric Weinmeyer – “the blind climber” – and made a film, which he still is showing in festivals,” said Brown. “Gordon just did a very extreme descent of the Blue Nile and filmed it, which was a very famous trip because they got attacked by crocodiles and shot at by guerillas in Sudan and had a real hair-raising experience making the film.”Though Nicolas’ adventures in film may not be as death-defying, he is doing very interesting and culturally important work.The Emmy Awards show on ABC on Sept. 19 from 6-9 p.m.Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado