Friday 26 October 2012

Interview with Joseph Matthew Garrett

Joseph Matthew Garrett is a screenwriter who set screenwriting aside to become an independent filmmaker. He wanted to do something different, something that made more sense to him. Se he created a reality TV-style webseries, in which seven strangers meet and get to know one another over the life of the series. 

The linking thread is that they all want to be in the circle of success in some area, like fashion, music, writing, or acting. This was a super-low budget series. The casting interviews were all done in a Starbucks on 23rd Street in Manhattan.

What set the series apart for me was the fact it was unscripted. I couldn't think of another example of a reality TV-style webseries and wanted to know more about it. So I asked Joseph some questions.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, and I grew up between there and East Orange, New Jersey.

Skyline of downtown Jersey City
What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I grew up with a great family. I wouldn't say they would of ever wanted me to be involved in entertainment, but other than that there was a lot of love in my family. My mom is pretty much my family.

Where did you go to school?

I went to school to qualify in computer networking. I thought I had to do something “practical" in my life, so I went to The Anthem Institute. What a waste.

What was your first paying job?

My first paying job was in retail. I worked for Best Buy for two years. I tell you, retail, for me, is like torture.

What do you do for a living today?

Right now I work for a cable company. This is how I pay my bills till I am able to work full time as a creator, producer, and writer.

You started as a screenwriter before deciding that there had to be a better way. Tell us how you progressed from the traditional Sell-A-Screenplay-To-Hollywood mindset to the independent filmmaker you are today.

It's all about liberation. Anytime you have to kiss ass and have someone tell you, You have to change your story to be like this or that, it takes away a certain amount of pride as an artist. I realized that I don't want someone to tell me what to create and how to create it. Money doesn't mean anything to me when it comes to this art. It's my joy. I'll work for the cable company forever, as long as I can tell stories the way I want. Agents want you to be a certain mold and so do studios. You will begin to hate it. I'll do this thing on my own terms.

How well did you know any of the cast of In The Circle: The Dreams of New York before you started filming?

I didn't know the cast at all before the casting interviews. Even back then it was all word-of-mouth. When doing a project that is 100% reality, it's good to keep a wall between you and them. They are supposed to feel like you and the cameras are not there. Eventually they do. Once I am looking through all the footage and doing the edits, then you start to really get to know them. 

*  How long did it take to film the first seven episodes?

We shot for over two months. It would usually be a weekend schedule, because we all worked and had responsibilities in everyday life. We just shot footage, we didn't know how many episodes it was going to be. The formatting of the story happens in editing.

New York is famous for being a film-friendly city. Did you have any problems shooting in public places?

It was great filming in New York. I didn't have a single problem. I would always get permission beforehand if we were filming in a particular establishment, but on the streets and subway, it was cool. People would ask what we were filming, and a lot of time, I would say we were shooting a project for school. They bought it, most of the time. When we were in one particular club, we told this drunk girl, straight up, we were filming a reality series, and she didn't believe us. New York is a great place. 

One of the problems I had with the first series was hearing everything: I was challenged by the ambient noise,  the speed at which some people speak, and the slang they employ. You used subtitles a few times. Do you plan to provide more of those next time?

That was a issue early on in production. We were new to this, so everything was trial by error. It wasn't until midway through we realized the importance of having great sound equipment. In regards to slang, there was nothing we could really do about it. That's the culture of the Five Boroughs. I used subtitles to the best of my ability. Sometimes, I would catch some things, and think to myself, I should have had more subtitles, but going forward, sound will be an important from the start. 

*  I’m looking forward to the next series. We know New Jersey as the home of Tony Soprano and friends. Do you plan to work anything associated with that show into the series, such as the drive from Manhattan or the house they filmed in or any aspects of New Jersey waste management?

You will see a whole lot of cool places in New Jersey. I think a lot of shows about New Jersey always want to work in the Italian theme all throughout the show. We want to show the diversity that exists out of New Jersey. There has been changes. We are no longer going to focus the show only on one particular city.  The show will be simply “IN THE CIRCLE” and for now we will be staying in the Tri-State Area (NY, NJ, CT) until we get the funding to go somewhere else.  However, our cast is 100% made up of New Jersey residents. A lot of the show will be shot in New Jersey, but there will be time in New York.  

*  Who has had the most influence on you as a screenwriter/filmmaker?

I grew up loving Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer). He made me want to write. I love teen slasher flicks and want to do some someday. He tells a youthful story in a very sophisticated way. I love stories geared towards young people. It's the teeny bopper in me.

*  What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

I wish someone told me I could even do it. I never thought I would be capable of something like that. I also wish someone told me how important it is to have sound equipment. On-board sound is not always good. Some would say it is never good, but for a web series, it works in quieter atmospheres. New York is not very quiet. 

*  What one filmmaking advice book would you recommend to a young wannabe filmmaker in Adelaide?
*  Name ten of your all-time favorite movies.


Anonymous said...

Nice interview, good luck to Joseph, I hope he does well.

Kathy said...

Wow, what dedication. Joseph is doing things the hard way, good on him.