Meredith Corning

Creative Director | Editor | PR | Event Planner

Filmmaker of Magic

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Filmmaker, Jeremy Workman.  Photo used with permission: John Atherton Monroe.

Few documentary filmmakers have that “magic spark” that Jeremy Workman has.  You may have seen him from watching his hit documentary, Magical Universe, about an eccentric and reclusive 88 year-old artist, Al Carbee, who has probably created more photo shoots with Barbie than Mattel (speaking of which, this film is neither endorsed, nor sponsored, nor affiliated with Mattel, Inc.).  Jeremy actually places himself in this documentary and reveals much about his personal life and thoughts behind the camera watching this story play out.

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Al Carbee on set with his model, Barbie.  Photo used with permission: John Atherton Monroe.

 

Jeremy has won multiple awards at film festivals all over the world and has directed many other films and projects including Who is Henry Jaglom and One Track Mind.  His projects are varied in scale, which eludes to his passion for making films.  He even did this one on Etsy.  Gaining traction from his hit, “Magical Universe” he was excited to learn that Al Carbee is finally getting the recognition he deserves as a true artist and even the Musee Des Decoratifs Art in Paris (which is part of the Louvre) is doing a blockbuster Barbie exhibit in 2016. They will be including some Al Carbee collages as well as clips from Magical Universe.  Learn more about that exhibit here.

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Al Carbee poses for a portrait in front of one of his favorite photographs during a time his work was on display at the Saco Museum. Photo used with permission: Rachael J. Golden

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Jeremy Workman about his craft, his advice for other filmmakers, and his passion for what he does.

Q.  You completed a highly successful documentary called “Magical Universe,” which is a story about an eccentric 88-year old artist who you truly become friends with during the making of the film.  Was this hard to juxtapose your close relationship with your subject to your duty to tell the story objectively?  How were you able to use that closeness to your advantage?

A.  Making Magical Universe was a really amazing experience. I never in a million years expected to make a movie where I included myself as one of the main characters.  I had never done that before in any of my prior films and I rarely enjoy films that feature the filmmakers as characters. So it took me some time before I finally said, “Okay. I’m going to put myself into the film.”  But, there was just no way to tell the story of Magical Universe without including myself in the film.  What started as small profile of this strange elderly artist mushroomed into this decade-long story about friendship, happenstance, and the amazing binds that connect random people. Al Carbee’s story became the story of our friendship because so many developments in his later life were a direct result of our friendship.   So, in the end, i made the decision to just say  “this is our story. I have to put myself into it. And I’m going to just try to do it the best way I can.”  I think it was instructive because any aspiring filmmaker should really look at their story very closely. What is the best way to tell that story? Not what is the “most entertaining” or “the most slick” way to tell the story. But rather, what is the BEST way to tell your story.  It’s always about the story. When we’re making a film, we’re storytellers, so everything must funnel from the story.
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Artwork by Al Carbee. Photo used with permission: Jeremy Workman.

Q.  Fans of “Magical Universe” see how the beginnings of this project unfolded in a very happenstance way.  Is this your normal mode of operation in the start phase of your films or do you usually have a more planned, strategized, pragmatic approach with “Magical Universe” being an exception?  Explain your beginning phase process of filming?

A.  Ha.  Magical Universe is what I call an “accidental documentary”.  In all my other films (which range from more traditional PBS-styled documentaries to ESPN 30for30 projects to even narrative films), everything is so planned and organized and there is a clear moment when you “are in production.” With Magical Universe, it was the opposite. There was nothing planned or prepped. For years, I was filming footage without any thought that it would be a part of a documentary. Basically, Magical Universe is a film made out of my own home movies of my friend.  I was just filming him because I thought he was interesting. I was filming him with a handycam!  And then he started sending me videos that he filmed with a VHS camera. And I sent him videos that I made for him. And that comprises most of the footage in the film.  So, it’s a film that was made out of material which was never intended to be seen by audiences. I think that’s what helps make it feel so special. You feel like you’re watching this unique friendship unfold between these people. (And it also explains why it’s not particularly filmed too well).
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Filmmaker, Jeremy Workman.  Photo used with permission: Jeremy Workman.

Q.  At the end of the day, social media “likes” are great, but reaching a larger audience is paramount in the overall success of a film/documentary. For those interested in filmmaking, what’s the best piece of advice you can give?   And are there any specific steps one should take in promoting their work to reach a larger audience?

A.  Well, I have a lot to say about this.  In my day job, I work in movie marketing and I have had a storied career editing movie trailers, particularly trailers for indie films.  (Here is a link to my company: http://www.wheelhousenyc.com)  So, I know all-too-well how important marketing is to small movies and how important it is to get your movie seen. I always try to remind filmmakers that it’s really hard to get people to watch your film. There’s a million movies out there! And there’s a million tv shows. And there’s a million Youtube channels. So, you have to use every resource you can to push your film. Certainly, social media is hugely important for smaller films and documentaries. You should be doing everything you can to build a community for your projects. Build an email list. Work your Twitter. Build up your Facebook followers. (On that note, don’t forget to LIKE Magical Universe: https://www.facebook.com/magicaluniversefilm).

Obviously, as a trailer maker, I also always think it’s really important to have a great trailer. A great trailer can really make a difference between your film getting seen or not.  And don’t think that trailers are just for the big Hollywood movies.  I’ve seen effective trailers for short films and for projects that are still in-progress or are seeking financing.   But it’s essential that filmmakers think about the marketing of their films from the moment they start shooting.

That said — with all this talk about marketing and social media followers  —  filmmakers should also remember that the most important thing is to just make a good film. There’s a movie industry phenomenon — that was proven true with Magical Universe and has been proven true with scores of other movies – if you make a good movie, people will find it.  So, that should always be your number one priority.

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Magical Universe film poster.  Photo used with permission: Jeremy Workman.

Q.  How important has choosing the right team of people to work with been and are there times when you have let people go in your work simply because it interfered with your creative process or your overall peace of mind? (This could be colleagues, employees, subjects, or other biz folks)

A.  This is so important since filmmaking is such a collaborative artform. It uses so many different people — writers, producers, cinematographers, editors, actors, composers, etc. And that’s not even including all the people who come on board once the film is finished and who are involved in its distribution. It’s important to remember to be collaborative, but to also hold strong on your vision. A lot of people will come in and have opinions, but you have to be ready to stand up for your ideas.  Part of being a filmmaker is just being able to withstand the torrent of opinions and negative energy. When you make a film, you’re really creating something out of nothing and it’s never easy. At every step, there are challenges. So it’s always smart to remain true to your vision and not bend when others are challenging it.  Yes, you want to collaborate (and your film will benefit from great collaboration), but you always have to remember what drove you to want to tell this story in the first place.  So, stay true to your vision.

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Al Carbee and his Barbies.  Photo used with permission: John Atherton Monroe.

 

Q.   You have won multiple awards for several of your films, gained respect and notoriety in the film industry, created an extensive and varied portfolio of work, yet you remain extremely approachable and relatable as a person.  Do you believe this relatability is part of your success and how does it play into reaching the audience you desire?

A.  Thanks for the compliments!  Well, it’s important to remember that you are making movies for people not for yourself. And it’s important to be in touch with your audience and not out of touch from your audience.  So, I always try to put myself out there and be available to anyone who approaches me.   Filmmaking is an extremely public art. It’s not a private enterprise. So if you want to be a filmmaker, it behooves you to get out and be a part of the public.  Be a part of the audience that would go see your film.  If you’re just a person that seals himself away in an ivory tower than how can you be a storyteller that people should listen to. I’m always shocked and turned off when I hear about filmmakers or artist who have very little connection to their audience. It makes no sense to me.

Q.  Can you tell us what you’re working on now and is there a project brewing in your mind that you would like to share?

A.  I’m working on an awesome new documentary. It’s about Matt Green, a 35-year old New Yorker who quit his career so that he can walk every street of New York City over the next few years. He’s walking all five boroughs in New York, which amounts to over 8000 miles.  Matt is a really interesting guy and has a really unique perspective on life.  He also does voluminous research on every block he visits. Matt has a blog that people can check out at http://www.imjustwalkin.com

I’ve  been filming Matt for about a year and a half and hope to be done with the film in the next year. When the documentary is finished, it’ll be a powerful feature-length documentary about passion, discovery, self-discovery, determination, commitment and of course the wonders of New York City.   It’s about this guy doing this vast project, but it’s also about “the smallness of the world” and the ways that we are all connected as people.  (And Matt is pretty funny too.)

Hey, if anyone is interested in helping out or being an investor, drop me a line at jeremy@jeremyworkman.com !  This new project feels like it could really find some widespread appeal.  Thanks!

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