Nelson Coates

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Nelson Coates is an American production designer and set designer for film, television, and theater. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1994 for his art direction of the miniseries The Stand,[1] for which he designed all 225 sets.[2] Coates is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was named Abilene Christian University's Outstanding Young Alumnus of the Year in 1996 and was recipient of the ACU Department of Journalism/Mass Communications Gutenberg Award. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Laguna College of Art and Design.


The son of two Abilene Christian University professors of education, Drs. Ed and Jane Coates, Nelson Coates became interested in the arts from a young age, creating costumes and scenery for school and community productions. He learned to create sculptures from natural fibers with the help of a book given to him at age 14 by his parents.[3] He began acting in regional theatre at the age of 6. He continued to perform in regional theatre and sang with various vocal groups. During high school, he became involved in gymnastics, a skill set he used years later when planning escape routes for Wesley Snipes' character in Murder at 1600.[4] Coates went on to attend the college where his parents taught, changing majors from pre-med to mass communications and graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in Journalism/Mass Communications with an emphasis in design.[4] Coates has acted in and designed for numerous theatres throughout the United States while in college, Coates was a part of the acting company of the Dallas Shakespeare Festival, where he met Morgan Freeman. Coates later designed Kiss the Girls and Thick as Thieves, both of which star Freeman.


After graduating from college, Coates moved to the DallasFort Worth metroplex, where he exhibited his sculptures,[3] acted in regional theater and television,[5] and began his career in theatrical and feature film design.[6][7][8][9]

The Stand is Coates' only television miniseries to date. In addition to designing all sets for the project, he took responsibility for other aspects of creating a realistic Nebraska setting for the Utah-based production. Faced with prices of $40 per stalk for New York-made fake corn, Coates opted instead to grow 3,250 corn stalks as a cost-cutting measure; when a winter storm hit Utah, the reproduction of a cornfield became complicated by the fact that the harsh weather did not allow the corn crop to grow taller than 4 feet.[2] Three grade of artificial corn were created to augment the real corn which was featured in close up shots of the stalks or silks. The entire cornfield and house for the Mother Abigail character portrayed by Ruby Dee was created indoors in the former Osmond Stages in Provo, Utah. For the dream sequences, the fields elevated and changed angles, and the main house distorted and changed shape to strengthen the dream-like quality. His designs for "The Stand" garnered Coates an Emmy Award nomination.

His films include Three of Hearts, Disney's Blank Check, CB4, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995), Kiss the Girls (1997), Murder at 1600 (1997), Disturbing Behavior (1998), Living Out Loud (1998) and Stir of Echoes (1999). Other films include Don't Say a Word (2001), Frailty (2001), the science-fiction film Impostor (2001), Antwone Fisher (2002), Runaway Jury (2003), Man of the House (2005), Aquamarine (2006), School for Scoundrels (2006), The Express (2008), The Code (2009), The Proposal (2009), The Last Song (2010) and the Miley Cyrus music video, "When I Look at You". He also designed the Universal feature, Big Miracle (2012) the first studio feature to ever film entirely in Alaska, and the Paramount films, The Guilt Trip (2012) starring Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand, and Flight (2012) starring Denzel Washington. He is currently designing the comedy film Hot Pursuit (2015) with Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


  1. ^ Awards and nominations for Nelson Coates, Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  2. ^ a b Michael Booth. "5 Points a star: Hollywood action invades Denver neighborhood," The Denver Post, August 27, 1994, page A1.
  3. ^ a b Ana Puga. "Metro profile: Nelson Coates," The Dallas Morning News, November 26, 1986, page 14A.
  4. ^ a b "Movie Minds: Nelson Coates" (cover story), ACU Today, Fall 1998. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  5. ^ Jerome Weeks. "'Fantasticks': a charmed life: It's not as good as last year's, but the music is a lot better" (review), The Dallas Morning News, December 6, 1989, page 1C: "Nelson Coates is a bit bland but fine as Matt, who, after all, is a bit bland around the stereotypes. [He] does a forceful job with "I Can See It," Matt's declaration of wanderlust."
  6. ^ Jerome Weeks, theater critic. "Land ho-ho! Clever 'Rough Crossing' requires a smoother production," The Dallas Morning News, December 3, 1988, page 5C: For his part, designer Nelson Coates has produced two of Stage West's more elegant and elaborate sets — a white deco ship's deck and a large ballroom used for rehearsals.
  7. ^ Jerome Weeks. "A reunion haunted in quiet sorrow: "A Shayna Maidel' carries solemnity to a tedious end" (review), The Dallas Morning News, May 10, 1989, page 5C: "A Shayna Maidel continues the welcome revival of production values at the Dallas Rep this season — Nelson Coates' stage design is another smart apartment set..."
  8. ^ Jerome Weeks. "'Postcards' is slow going: Poor pacing and characterization hurt musical" (review), The Dallas Morning News, October 23, 1989, page 5C: "...designers Nelson Coates and Robert Kruger have created an idealized trendy restaurant..."
  9. ^ Jerome Weeks. "'Mrs. California': the Donna Reed syndrome" (review), The Dallas Morning News, March 17, 1990, page 3C: Designer Nelson Coates, who is responsible for the down-home realism of Theatre Three's Traveling Lady, has created another fine set, this time a TV sound stage of chrome appliances and obsessively sharp angles.

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