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Nelsons launch movie production company

For the past year, Gary Nelson has been thinking less about staffing and more about movie musicals.

“I have very little talent in the arts,” said Nelson, founder of Nelson Staffing. “But I have a real passion for musicals and I think I have come up with a way to create inspiring musical productions with a double purpose … to entertain and generate funding for nonprofits.”

The founder of the Sonoma-based Nelson Family of Companies and his wife, Marcia, have long been known in town for their philanthropy, but they are now making a name for themselves as Hollywood-style movie producers.

The couple’s new endeavor, For You From Me Creations, LLC, will produce full-length film and stage musical events in the hope of generating funding to support education, healthcare and performing arts nonprofit organizations. Nelson explained that after expenses, 50 percent of any profits of a film or stage show will be shared by its creative production team and 50 percent by one or more nonprofits.

“Unlike so many film projects, our production teams will have an equity stake in the project, assuming it is a success,” he said, explaining that the profit sharing would “waterfall down” to all levels of the production from the director to the singers and dancers.

“I have been looking for an opportunity to help creative people develop an engine from which they can benefit, while also raising money for nonprofits,” he said. He clarified that some beneficiaries will be Sonoma Valley nonprofits but not all.

Nelson expects each production to have a budget of $500,000 to $5 million, with $1 to $3 million his self-described “sweet spot.”

While the Nelsons will be active in Sonoma, most of the operations of the production company will be run out of Los Angeles.

Nelson is eager to get as many productions underway as possible, and he expects his team will get started on three in 2018.

“It’s a gas,” he said. “I like starting things. I’m really motivated to make this work as I don’t think it has ever been executed anywhere else.”

Nelson plans on developing literary properties and scripts based on history-changing people and events. The projects will not be documentaries, but Nelson likes the idea of concurrently producing behind the scenes “making of” films as well.

He said that Marcia has been involved since the onset, screening which projects to pursue.

Nelson’s film producing adventure began in 2014, when he caught a screening of “The Young Kieslowski” at the Sonoma International Film Festival, where the offbeat romantic comedy won the award for Best American Independent Feature Film. After the screening, Nelson introduced himself to Seth Caplan, who produced the film.

Nelson met with up Caplan again in 2015, and stepped forward to help produce Caplan’s latest-project, a love triangle called “First Girl I Loved,” which went on to win the Audience Award for “Best of NEXT” at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Both films, “The Young Kieslowski” and “First Girl I Loved,” were written and directed by Kerem Sanga.

Caplan, who is partnering with the Nelsons in launching the new production company, has produced more than a dozen feature films, animated movies and documentary programs. He has produced films that have gone on to win awards including the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award for “In Search of a Midnight Kiss.”

He also co-wrote and produced “Flatland: The Movie,” an animated film voiced by Martin Sheen, Kristen Bell and Michael York. While getting his MFA from the American Film Institute, Caplan was awarded a student Emmy and student-Academy Award nomination for his thesis film, “Duncan Removed.”

Caplan is optimistic about the success of the types of productions he and the Nelsons are focused on.

“We envision that these cross-generational productions focused on true stories and real people will inspire a unique emotional response from audiences around the world,” he said.

“With the success of ‘Hamilton,’ we think that there is strong interest in a series of fact-based musicals,” added Nelson. “I am thrilled to reunite with Seth on this new collaboration that will provide an opportunity for film and stage musical professionals to create, benefit, and give back.”

The films will be produced independent of any studio although Nelson’s team is currently looking for distribution partners.

For You From Me Creations will also invest in packaged feature film projects seeking production or finishing funds that match its mission of creating successful musical productions with a purpose.

Nelson wasn’t willing to disclose the specifics of the three projects that are already in the works, but said he hopes to have optioned the rights to the stories within the next few months and be able to announce the beginning of production.

Nelson made his fortune by selling his strategic workforce management company WorkforceLogic to a private equity firm in 2012. He stepped down as chairman of the Nelson Family of Companies in 2011 to focus more of his attention on cultural, philanthropic and civic endeavors.

Nelson describes the new production company as part of the Nelson family’s ongoing philanthropic initiatives to support and serve their communities.

The Nelsons have been longtime supporters of Transcendence Theater Company, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Weill Hall/Green Music Center at Sonoma State University, the Smuin Ballet and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. More locally, they were also major donors to Sonoma Valley Hospital, the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, the Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley and the Sonoma Charter School.

Nelson expects the nonprofit recipient to change with each project.

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanws.com.