Tim Blake Nelson isn't looking to make the easy films. As a writer/director, he has two yet-to-be-released movies — O, a tragic teen take on Othello, and the Holocaust-set Grey Zone — which promise to be anything but typical sells to the American public.

Describing the former, which co-stars Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett, Nelson admits, "It's a rough and controversial movie. Everything that happens in Othello happens in O — except it is high-school students and the killings happen with guns." Indeed, while O was adapted with the Pearl, Miss., and Jonesboro, Ark. school shootings in mind, Nelson had just begun editing when the Columbine, Col. travesty took place. "[After] I showed it to Miramax, you could tell that they were thinking, 'What are we going to do now? Can America see this?'

"I'm a serious person, I'm a New York filmmaker. This is not an exploitative Hollywood teen movie," Nelson adds in his defense. "I stand by what the movie is: a [reflection] of a horrible epidemic of violence in high schools. When Miramax does decide to release O — which, to me, couldn't be soon enough — it will hopefully have its appropriate impact."

The recently wrapped Grey Zone, meanwhile, is based in part on Nelson's play of the same name, and profiles the Auschwitz death camp Sonderkomando — groups of imprisoned Jews who aided in the extermination of their own, in exchange for a few extra months of life.

"It is the story, based on historical fact, of one of those units that attempted a rebellion," the filmmaker says. "In a strange way, it will be an easier sell than O because it has a very specific audience in mind." The Grey Zone, co-starring Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Mira Sorvino, David Arquette and Natasha Lyonne, currently is seeking a distributor.

With the heavy material of those two films behind him, Nelson likely looks forward to viewing his lighthearted acting turn in the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? (opening Friday). Just how determined was director Joel Coen to sign Nelson for their latest project? Nelson recalls, "Joel said, 'We know you've got to edit [O], but bring your edit onto the set, and when you're not acting you can go edit. And we'll pay for it. Just please do the movie.' So I did it!"