Thursday, April 30, 2009
Sean Tracey on "The Jesus Guy"
What was your filmmaking background before beginning The Jesus Guy?
SEAN TRACEY: This was my first documentary. However, I have been directing TV commercials and corporate films for over 20 years. I wrote, produced, and directed an entertainment TV program before that.
How were you introduced to the subject of your film?
SEAN TRACEY: The film kind of came to me. I had read about the subject, who goes by the name, ‘What’s Your Name?,’ in a TIME magazine article. I had been involved with a company called Maysles Films in New York, where I was directing TV commercials. Albert Maysles, who owns the company, is one of the world’s most famous documentary filmmakers. I fell in love with his style of filmmaking, called Direct Cinema, and since working with Albert, I wanted to make a film in this style.
Why did you decide that this was a story worth following?
SEAN TRACEY: I had been looking for a good subject for some years, and when I first met ‘What’s Your Name?’ I realized I had found a subject that could sustain the viewers’ attention for an entire movie. That’s what made me decide to do it.
What was your editorial process like -- that is, did you know going in what the shape of the film would be, or did you find it in the editing?
SEAN TRACEY: No actually, I was still looking for an ending when I completed the first cut. I thought, most movies have an ending. People expect an ending. For instance, maybe my subject, ‘What’s Your Name?,’ would give up his mission and take a regular job. Maybe he’d become a priest or a monk. There was even some rumor of him going to see the Pope, because he was being looked into by the Vatican. I thought that could be a big ending, you know, meeting the Pope, getting recognition for what he’s done. Any of those things would have been an ending.
But at the very first public screening for The Jesus Guy, at Washington University (a wonderful program called Docs in Progress), there was an opportunity for the filmmaker to ask questions to the audience, (as opposed to the usual/opposite). That was the premise of this screening and this organization. It’s usually done before the filmmaker finishes editing. I got that opportunity. When I asked the people that were there, “Where do you want this film to go and how do you want it to end?” they said, “We don’t! We love it the way it is!”
How have subsequent audiences responded to the film?
SEAN TRACEY: From what I’ve been gathering from our screenings at film festivals, the average person who is not particularly religious sees the film as a really interesting observation of an unusual person’s life, commitment and mission. But people who are highly religious -- curious, philosophical, or on their own spiritual journeys—get even more out of it. It gets under their skin. A number of clergy have told me it made them lose sleep and seriously consider and reassess their own commitment to their faith and God. People see it on a bunch of different levels, especially if they’ve ever tried to do anything like that themselves.
What was your favorite part of the process on The Jesus Guy?
SEAN TRACEY: Both the shooting and editing were very difficult on this film. I couldn’t have a crew. It interfered with the intimacy of the encounters of people with my subject. The fact that I never knew where/how to find my subject during the years I filmed him, that he had no home, no phone, no itinerary—all made it feel impossible to do it. My favorite part, then, was having it all done, and seeing people’s stunned reactions to the film in screenings, their open mouths, especially, of course, those that involved hundreds of people on the big screen. Makes it all totally worthwhile.
What did you learn making this film that you've taken to subsequent projects?
SEAN TRACEY: I have another documentary I’m about to jump into. I’m looking for some funding for that film. My friend, Albert Maysles, has already signed on to collaborate and contribute. He has some wonderful ideas.
What I learned is that, this time, I’m not going to go it alone. I love to collaborate. I won’t work on a film with so many restrictions on size of crew and equipment, etc. I’m also in preliminary discussions on some dramatic scripts. This would be not a documentary but a scripted film for me to direct. So, I guess I also learned that I’d like to do a film with which I have more control of the outcome.