LAFF: Interview with Negin Farsad on the making of 3rd Street Blackout - LA (June 15, 2015)
PT: Could you tell us about the genesis of the project?
NF: Like all movies about New York City, this one was born in Minneapolis. I met my co- director there because I was doing standup at a conference that he was attending. I guess my standup didn't suck so we struck up a friendship, figured out we both lived in New York, and worked on a couple of smaller projects together. 3RD STREET BLACKOUT is my fourth feature film as a producer and my third as a director and the previous films were all feature docs. Documentaries have a way of taking a very very long and occasionally soul-crushing time to make. By the time I was done with my last film, I was keen on doing a smaller budget movie with a more controlled schedule. Jeremy was looking do to a first feature that fit the same description so we figured, why not? The hurricane and blackout happened in 2012 and we started working together some months later so the blackout and, for me, the relationship that I had during that blackout were still very fresh.PT: What was the experience like directing in a man's world?
NF: It is absolutely the case that being a female director is tougher than being a male director. Having a uterus in this business is like driving a car with the emergency break on. Being a woman of color is like driving a car with the emergency break on being forced to operate the steering wheel with your knees. The numbers bear this out - fewer than 8% of films are directed by women. The ACLU is even suing major Hollywood studios because so few women are considered to direct. So it's not in our heads, it is harder and it is a sexist industry. My decision to work with Dean Obeidallah on my last film and Jeremy on this one is not because they were men. It's because they were great guys who were enthusiastic about a project and I respond to enthusiasm. Plus it's more fun to have someone to kvetch to! The road to getting a film done is a lonely one, its nice having someone who can keep an eye on the road when you need to check your text messages - I'm really spitting out these driving analogies, huh?
I will say that the most awful thing about working with men on any project is that occasionally there is an assumption that they are the brains behind the operation - which always struck me as funny because I had more feature/media experience in most of the cases. But this is probably true in any industry, you walk in the room with a man and he is immediately perceived to be the boss. That has sucked and I encourage everyone who does this to knock it off! My next film doesn't lend itself to this kind of collaboration (neither did my first, Nerdcore Rising) but you never know what the future will bring.PT: Do you have a mentor?
NF: My trajectory has been slightly different than the average director. I never went to film school - instead I got a dual masters degree in African-American Studies and Public Policy from Columbia and I started my career as a policy advisor for the city of New York. But, I always did standup comedy at night. Comedy was the thing that brought me into the entertainment fold - making movies was kind of accidental. I didn't make shorts first, I didn't even make a single youtube video, I jumped right into making a feature film first, like a lunatic. In my daily life I'm surrounded by comedians and comedy writers, not filmmakers. But I've found that smart people give good notes - they don't have to be directors or screenwriters - they just have to be smart and pay occasional attention to underarm odor. I have a stable of smart people that I go to regularly and they give me honest, sometimes really tough-to- hear notes. But that's what makes the work better.PT: What steps were involved in the casting process?
NF: Casting was almost easy because some of the parts were written with certain people in mind. I see comedians everyday who are also great actors - Janeane Garofalo was in my last movie so I twisted her arm once again. Ed Weeks from the Mindy Project is an old friend - I said to him "Taye Diggs said no and you're our second choice." He responded with "I quite like being second fiddle to Taye Diggs." For the rest of the comedians, I mostly went around asking "hey, can I underpay you to be in my movie - oh yeah, there will be free snacks." Comedians really respond to snacks. We also had a wonderful casting director, Henry Russell, who brought great actors to the table like Phyllis Somerville and Miles J. Harvey who really make the film.NF: What was the biggest challenge making this film?
With standup, you can write a joke that day and go perform it at night. You get an instant reaction, you know what works, what doesn't work, you rewrite the joke and you go out again the next night. Writing for standup is an active process. But with filmmaking, you're working on an article of faith that what you're doing will resonate with audiences. You can get notes from your friends along the way to bolster the material, but all you can do is clutch your pearls in fear, and wait until the movie is done to really know how people feel about it. The wait blows.PT: Did you have any financial difficulties making the film?
NF: "Independent filmmaking" is just code for "begging for money". I can't imagine that there's an independent filmmaker at any level that walks into bags of cash. It's a constant struggle. Even when you raise all the money, there's hidden costs like a crane or a Sheffield pony you must have in the shot so the budget is a moving target. Every time I make a pitch for fundraising, a little part of my soul dies.PT: What is in the future for you?
NF: I have a book coming out called How to Make White People Laugh through Grand Central Publishing. It's basically a memoir meets social justice comedy manifesto from yet another Iranian-American Muslim female comedian. I think (I hope) it will be a fun read. Also, we're coming up on an election season so I will be doing endless standup and articles on that - its a gross horse race guided by money but I really get into it, its like the World Cup for me. Of course, there's the next movie and I'll just say this: its probably going to be set in Iran.
3rd Street Blackout
(2015, 85 min.)
Language: Persian, English
Directed By: Negin Farsad, Jeremy Redleaf
Producer: Jeremy Redleaf, Andrew Mendelson, Ryan Cunningham, Negin Farsad
Executive Producers: Samuel Goldberg, Max Born
Screenwriters: Negin Farsad, Jeremy Redleaf
Cinematographer: Eun-ah Le
Music: Gaby Alter
Cast: Negin Farsad, Jeremy Redleaf, Ed Weeks, Phyllis Somerville, Janeane Garofalo, John
Hodgman, Sasheer Zamata, Jordan Carlos, Katie Hartman, Miles J. Harvey, Rachel Feinstein
Watch the trailer