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Edward Douglas on: Zobel Zobel Zobel


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The Reeler Blog

Zobel Zobel Zobel

Great World of Sound director Craig Zobel (Photo: Vann Apragal for The Reeler)

By S.T VanAirsdale

A colleague recently sent an e-mail to ask if or when I planed to publish a feature about Craig Zobel and his devastating song-shark dramedy Great World of Sound. He's a hot New York up-and-comer, after all -- shoudn't The Reeler be more interested?

Well, yes. We were so interested, in fact, that we were the first to interview Zobel before Great World's Sundance premiere last January, getting an eight-month head start on the controversy and talent that compelled A.O. Scott to write in today's Times review: "Mr. Zobel may be a scam artist, but he’s also the real thing." To wit, our exchange from that initial conversation:

THE REELER: (T)o go as far as you do with some of these people -- one woman is actually persuaded against her better judgment to offer you money -- and then pull the rug out from under them and be told by a filmmaker, "We're just doing a movie about this" -- devil's advocate might say you're crossing the line. What do you think?

CRAIG ZOBEL: On one hand, it's hard to talk about it without seeing it happen -- and the woman you're talking about is really one of the only ones you see who goes that far. Honestly, you have to sort of be able to tackle it at some point. I really just feel like ethically, it was never my intention to make this movie to ridicule people like that. In fact, I think because she believes in it, it helps me kind of be able to see how real this is. She's one of my favorite people in terms of it expressing the emotions these people have; you can't really write stuff that way. We tried to have actors come in, but often it just fell flat. They would immediately start acting suspicious; once you know what's going on, you don't want it to seem like you agree with it. In her case, she met everyone and what not and got to understand where were coming from with the film -- it was ultimately not a bad experience for her. I really wanted it to be part of the film. It's important to see that to know that's what's at stake -- to see how this situation can be that fucked.

R: I say that, of course, not really knowing what the dramatic alternative might be.

CZ: Absolutely. It's important that you see how what they're doing isn't cute -- it isn't cool. I did want it to have that impact. All of the filmmakers - myself, the producers -- wanted to be as sensitive to the people as possible; it wasn't Borat, where they're saying, "They told us this was only going to air in another country." They would often come back and see the whole set up, and a lot of times they'd just be like, "Oh, I got punked." We didn't intend this as something harmful.

R: I have to presume people are going to bring up the exploitation line and whether or not you crossed it. Have you thought about having to answer these questions at the Q&A's?

CZ: Yeah, I have, and I thought about them when we were making the movie. I didn't want to do it in a way that felt like we were taking advantage of people. At the same time, I've worked on reality TV, where there's complete disregard for that. Look at shows like Room Raiders on MTV, where you sign an agreement beforehand that they could shoot in your house, then you get in a van and people come in and look through your drawers and all over your rooms. I didn't want to be like that, you know? But I thought about that, and why people would want to be on that show so bad, and this was a way to say it.

And don't forget our coverage of the premiere itself, as well as two-part roundtable discussion with Zobel and his New Directors/New Films colleagues Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night) and Christopher Zalla (Padre Nuestro):

Since Sundance, I've been exposed to more screenplays by other people than I'd ever read before, really, and it's definitely made me realize something about what I want to do in making movies. I tend to have it be about something rather than just have it be an entertainment. You know? You have to have a question you're trying to ask in the first place; that's kind of why we're all trying to make movies in the first place. Everything that came through in the style of my movie just came out of just trying to ask the question.

And for the latest, check out this week's Reeler review by Vadim Rizov. Great World of Sound has about as close to a unanimous endorsement as any film can get on this site; I can't recommend it heartily enough on its opening weekend.

Posted at September 14, 2007 12:23 PM

Comments (1)

Yeah, Reeler has given excellent coverage of this great film.. I'm embarassed that my own interview was tabled while I dealt with all the Toronto madness, but I remember wanting to interview Craig while at Sundance and had scheduled something that fell through because of bad communication. Craig and Kene were a lot of fun to talk to but I had to cut my interview shorter cause we ended up talking for like 40 minutes.

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