2006_06_outsider.jpgNew York-native and NYU graduate Nicholas Jarecki comes from some serious documentary making stock. His brother Andrew made Capturing the Friedmans and his brother Eugene won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance with the movie, Why We Fight. While in film school, Jarecki interviewed a number of film directors about how they made it big and in the process discovered a fascinating mentor in writer-director James Toback. In fact so much so, that he convinced Toback to let him film the making of his 2004 film, When Will I Be Loved with Neve Campbell. Jarecki’s documentary about that 12 day shoot, Toback and what it means to be an outsider in an insiders industry, opened last Friday at the Cinema Village. Here both the documentarian and the subject talks with Gothamist all about The Outsider and why indie movies and New York go as well together as peanut butter and jelly.

How did you both get into filmmaking initially? What was that moment or experience that made you feel like you had to pick up a camera and capture your world?
NJ: I grew up in New York and I was a computer hacker in my youth. I actually got hired as the technical consultant for the movie Hackers with Angelina Jolie.
Oh my god, that movie’s a classic!
NJ: My job was to hang out with the actors and with the director and to tell them what was real and not real in the script about hacking. So I got to hang out a lot with Angelina Jolie, who was the first movie star that I’d ever met, though at the time she was a nobody. And I completely developed a big crush on her. I decided the only way I could ever win her over was to become a movie director. But what I realized later was that I got to see how a whole movie was made and I think I was falling in love with the idea of movies.

Around the same time I read Making Movies by Sidney Lumet, and started watching a bunch of the classics—The Conversation, The Godfather, Serpico, these type of films. At that point I really knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.
JT: I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do for quite a while. I got out of Harvard. I traveled around the world. I was living up at Jim Brown’s house in the Hollywood hills when I was 27 years old. The first moment when I felt that I had to make movies didn’t actually occur until I had written a movie, which was being made by somebody else. I turned what was starting out as a novel into a screenplay called The Gambler and Karel Reisz wanted to do the movie. We worked together on the script and I was with him during pre-production, shooting and post-production. But it was only when that movie started that I realized I wanted to direct. It became completely demythologized. By the time the movie was done, I knew I was ready.

Obviously a theme from the film, and the title of the film, is that James is “an outsider” in the film industry. And making an independent documentary is obviously an outsider move. Do you feel like for each of you being “an outsider” was a conscious decision? Or was it something that came about more organically?
NJ: I don’t want to speak for Jim, because he should speak for himself, but I will say that I originally interviewed Jim for a book I wrote called Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start which I published out of film school. And I remember before interviewing Toback, I read something David Thompson who’s a very famous critic and writer said, “Toback has the haunted soul of an outsider, with the privileged position of an insider.” And I think that for me was one of the interesting things about Toback. Here was a guy who had access to the guys running the system. And yet his temperament and his interests are those of a guy who is at odds with conventional morality and looking at things in a different way. Therefore, he has to work outside of the system with smaller budgets but in a way, it’s almost a self-imposed exile because those are things that move him and he wants to make films about.
JT: That’s a very accurate description and the only thing I’d add, the real benefit of being outside the system, no matter how many connections you have inside it, is that when you’re making a movie, you don’t get the supervision and the second guessing as when you’re working directly inside the system. You don’t even have to discuss things with people you don’t want to discuss them with. You’re not answerable to anybody in any way. That doesn’t seem to some people be a huge price to pay because you get a much bigger budget and you have better distribution, but for me it is a huge price to pay. I love bringing people into the process, discussing things, getting help but only when I’m asking for it and only when it’s welcome.

What would be your advice for other aspiring outsiders?
JT: Two words: please yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are going to think, don’t worry about where you’re going to sell it, just make a movie you like yourself. Then maybe it will work and maybe it won’t, but at least you did something that pleased you. If you don’t have that you’ll never get anywhere anyway.
NJ: I would second that. I certainly went to film school with a lot of kids with not that intention, just wanting to make a living and wanting to have some access. Who say, “what can I do that Hollywood will embrace? How can I come up with the next Hitch meets blah blah blah?” That may work in the short term. Although I’m not exactly sure that it will. The people who are successful really care about something and eventually that meets up with the culture at some point. But even if that works in the short term, it won’t work in the long term because it’s inauthentic. Also, and I don’t think Toback even realizes how much he understands this internally, it’s persistence. Continuing to stay in the game and continuing to put your work in front of people. Endless perseverance to get the work out there is what I think can make the difference.

At Gothamist, we’re a little obsessed with New York. Can you talk a bit about filming in New York, pluses and minuses?
JT: I’ve shot most of my movies here and it’s a great place to shoot because of the variety of looks you can get, the diversity of people. It’s a terrific place for a movie that’s complex. I’ve used about every area of Central Park. Soho. When it was really just warehouses, in Fingers we used all those great building on Greene Street and Broome. It was I thought a really aesthetically beautiful place to shoot. If you want to shoot New York, it has to be New York.
NJ: One of the things that’s been very exciting about Toback’s work over the years has been that you get this grittiness that’s very authentic. The city is almost a character in a sense.

What’s your favorite place to see a movie in New York?
NJ: I’ll tell you my least favorite is the Kip’s Bay on 32nd St. It’s the worst run theater of any chain. every time I go in there the sound is terrible and the projection is terrible.
JT: Cinema Village is the one that I admire the most and I’m not just saying that because we’re there.
NJ: They’ve been at it for so long, they’ve been going on, programming really intriguing films.
JT: They show movies first run that you’re not going to see anywhere else. And it’s a shrinking virtue in New York. Everything’s become chains now.

Do you have a crazy New York taxi story?
NJ: I’m in a cab about two years ago with my girlfriend and another friend of ours. The driver, he seemed nice at first and we’re getting near our destination and somehow another car cut in front of him. He didn’t like this. I think these guys are under so much pressure that he finally just snapped and he starts a James Bond-style chase throughout wherever we were just trying to catch up with this guy. We’re starting to get freaked out because he’s running red lights and zooming in and out. He’s almost clipping cars. We’re like, “let us out, let us out of the cab!” And he won’t let us out. We start kicking the partition with our heels and he’s still zooming to catch up with this black Suburban. Finally he catches up with the guy, he starts screaming then takes a huge handful—I’d say 64 cents worth—of pennies out of his glove box. He puts them in his mouth and then spits them out the window. Then he drives off maniacally laughing. Finally when he stops on the corner, we got out and ran for our lives.

Uptown or Downtown?
NJ: Downtown.
JT: Both.
NJ: Yeah he’s right, both. They each have their perks.
JT: I’ve always lived up near the park and the great thing about New York is that it’s so tiny and there’s so much going on, yet you have this vast park in the middle. There’s so many areas where you can loose yourself. The rats not withstanding, it’s still a great place to go.

So I think that’s about it, unless there’s anything else you wanted to mention.
NJ: If you could write in big capitol letters, 25 times, go on Friday to the Cinema Village to see this movie, that’d really be good.
JT: And you could say your website would refund anyone who is not thrilled to have done so.
Wait, Gothamist is going to refund their admission?
NJ: Or you could do it personally.
$10.75 from my pocket.
JT: Right, it’s a safe claim.