new movie Gatsby in
Connecticut: The Untold Story - in a few words, what is it about?
source of inspiration of The Great Gatsby turned out to be in Connecticut,
not Long Island. Gatsby in
Connecticut: The Untold Story explores that spark and Scott and
Zelda’s first year together, his instant success, their wedding, the
parties and the drinking.
motivated you to make a documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald in the first
place, and what do the man and his writings mean to you, personally?
project started out as a ten-minute film for the Westport Historical
Society to ensure future residents didn’t forget the Fitzgeralds lived
there (most people in town didn’t know). As we delved deeper, we
discovered how important this short period was to both Scott and Zelda.
the 2nd part of the question: Always been in awe of Scott’s sentences,
the word choices, the melody and lyrical sensibility of his phrasing. The
Great Gatsby packs so much into a small package, its less than 200 pages.
did you first happen upon the story about the Fitzgeralds' (rather brief)
stay in Connecticut?
quickly discovered they lived in Westport from a sales clerk in a local
bookstore when I moved here in 1992 and always thought that was cool, but
it wasn’t until 2013 when I put together a literary roundtable to
celebrate that town’s artistic heritage at the historical society as
part of my effort to promote my novel, that the significance of their time
first came to my attention (My Year as a Clown—available on Amazon).
What can you tell us about the
research you did on your subject at hand, and what were some of the things
you've come up with that surprised you?
teamed up with a local historian and together we read everything written
on the Fitzgeralds. We also dug into the archives, read four years of
local newspapers, reviewed tax rolls and other town documents, looking for
anything on the Fitzgeralds or that mystery millionaire that lived next
door to the Fitzgeralds who threw extravagant parties.
interviewed over a dozen scholars, spent several days at Princeton
University reviewing the Fitzgerald collection of original writings,
correspondence and photographs. We spent years tracking down a diary
written by a Princeton pal of Scott’s who kept meticulous notes about
Scott and Zelda’s parties, arguments, and other antics.
the lawsuit between the world’s leading Fitzgerald scholar and the
grandchildren was one helluva surprise. Watch the film to learn more on
that, don’t want to spoil it.
Do talk about
your directorial approach to your story at hand?
footage was extremely rare, and yet, we had access to their writing (Zelda
also wrote a novel), and of course, letters, postcards etc. I avoided
inserting my words into the narrative as much as possible, relying instead
on the writing and correspondence of Scott and Zelda. The trick was to
figure out how to best bring those words to life. Keir Dullea did a
remarkable job, but of course, he played Scott in a one-person
off-Broadway play in the 90s. We interspersed interviews, clips from the
’49 and ’74 Gatsby, and the incomparable Sam Waterston to make the
viewing experience both educational and entertaining. The last thing we
wanted was to make this feel like a college lecture. This had to be fun to
watch, a journey back in time, but at the same time, we wanted to make
sure that what we presented held up to scholarly rigor. We assembled a
team of leading scholars to help advise and guide us along the way to
ensure that what was included was accurate and held up to academic
was an honor and privilege to work with Sam and Keir, both legends, both
live in Connecticut and were intrigued by the project. Of course, Sam
played Nick Carraway in the 74 The Great Gatsby, so there’s an organic connection
that just made sense. Local actress Marguerite Foster did a great job
bringing Zelda’s words to life too.
can you tell us about the people appearing in your film, and why them?
were grateful to everyone that took the time to speak with us. And of
course, getting one of Scott and Zelda’s grandkids to talk about their
grandparents was incredible because they rarely talk in public about them.
Charles Scribner III, the grandson of Scott’s publisher was another key
interview. Our objective was to find the leading voices in Fitzgerald
scholarship. Of course, we would have loved to have gotten one of Matthew
J. Bruccoli’s partners to talk with us, several politely declined.
few words about the shoot as such?
projects are typically woefully underfunded, and ours certainly fit that
category. And because we shot this over seven years, we used a variety of
crews and cameras, often scraping together whatever we could afford at the
time. But often when you have no money, you are forced to be more
creative. I also spent a lot of time begging and cajoling friends to cut
rates, donate their time etc. I continue to be humbled by the many super
talented people that contributed to this documentary at rates well below
what they deserved.
Anything you can tell
us about audience and critical reception of Gatsby
in Connecticut: The Untold Story?
early days here, having said that, we have been giving presentations,
showing clips for several years, and everyone loves the program. Scott and
Zelda were America’s first pop stars. 1920 was a pivotal moment in
history, and as it turned out, the Fitzgerald’s most important time
too. When audiences understand the context and impact of this time period
on their work and relationship, it really excites them. It also makes
everyone wonder how it got missed.
projects you'd like to share?
mostly make short films for not-for-profits to help them generate
donations to continue their work. While filmmakers are mostly on the
sidelines in terms of shooting due to COVID, I spent the summer in a
Sundance Documentary Development program working on a business plan to
shoot a documentary series on Impact Investing. I’m keen to explore this
intersection of business and philanthropy and hope to have phase one
funding in place once it’s safe to get back out there with a crew.
What made you go into
filmmaking in the first place, and documentary filmmaking at that, and did
you receive any formal educaiton on the subject?
was a novelist, musician and entrepreneur, mostly doing shorts as
fund-raisers for not-for-profits before stumbling into this Fitzgerald
project. Prior to that I was in the music business. I also have an MBA
from Harvard Business School. I love film, but had no formal training. But
I’m a fast learn and I know how to find people that know more than me
and somehow get them to join in, show me a few tricks along the way. I
find the key to success is to surround yourself with passionate super
smart people that know what you don’t and create an environment where
they are empowered and feel as committed as you are to the project.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Gatsby
in Connecticut: The Untold Story?
produced a short film about the legendary drummer Omar Hakim about ten
years ago. Omar has played with everyone from Sting to Madonna and we
followed him around for a week when he launched one of his solo projects.
It was great fun and I realized then that film required a lot of
skillsets, many of which I’d haphazardly had picked up over the years.
One moment you're behind the camera, the next you’re raising money,
negotiating licensing, reviewing a contract, editing an interview, working
on a storyboard with an animator, the list is endless, and that’s what
makes film, directing and producing so interesting.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
try to empower the team to contribute and be their best by creating a
collaborative environment. Not looking for a bunch of yes-folks, but at
the same time, once an agreed upon strategy is in place, I’m looking for
results, not excuses. So the standards are super high, but hopefully the
joy and fun along the way makes it worth the effort.
Filmmakers who inspire
in awe of the filmmakers who risk so much to capture stories that need
telling - Petra
Costa’s Edge of Democracy, Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the
Raoul Peck’s I am Not Your Negro. Also love David Lynch, Katherine
Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, Jordan Peele, Ron Howard, Ken Burns.
Your favourite movies?
Costa’s Edge of Democracy, Patricio
Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, Jean
Rouche’s Chronicle of a Summer, Jonathan
Demme’s Stop Making Sense, Amy
(Amy Winehouse). I
just watched the Michael Jordan documentary series. Interesting in terms
of how they weaved the last season across the ten episodes. Perhaps
Michael had too much say in the project, but it came along at a time when
everyone was hungering for something new in sports to watch.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
website, social media, whatever else?
can find us here:
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
did a great job coming up with interesting questions. Thanks a lot.
for the interview!