For Mr. Nichols, “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud” are an Arkansas trilogy, a meditation on family, masculinity and environment, especially fertile subjects in the South. They are what he explored as he first considered becoming a filmmaker. “ ‘Mud’ kind of puts a period on the end of it for me,” he said.
Though the first two films made negligible dents at the box office, they gave Mr. Nichols enough of a name around Hollywood to move projects. “Mud,” which was shot around DeWitt, had a budget of around $12 million, enabling him to upgrade his camerawork.
“I wanted it to move like a river,” he said of the camera. “I wanted constant fluidity. Mud” — the man — “was always supposed to be in motion.”
But the movie was told from the searching, craning viewpoint of 14-year-old Ellis. “You think about the Mississippi River, it moves at two to three miles per hour, but it’s also one of the most windy rivers in the world,” Mr. Nichols said. “And that was like a director’s concept that I had going into the movie.”
“I don’t think that’s just film-school-director stuff,” he added. “I think those are actually the subconscious building blocks that an audience puts together themselves.”