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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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org ! This new project feels like it could really find some widespread appeal. Thanks!