“Freakonomics” is a new documentary based on the best-selling economics book that includes segments by six of the top documentary filmmakers around today.
Seth Gordon is one of these elite six, and he recently sat down with the CU Independent to talk about his experience with the film “Freakonomics,” which premiered last April at the Tribeca Film Festival.
CU Independent: Considering the number of directors, what was it like working on this film?
Seth Gordon: It was an honor to work with who I think are kind of the best of the current documentarians working. They represent a range of really good voices, and it was an honor to work with them and see the kind of interpretations they had of that book, which all of us revered.
CUI: How long have you been into “Freakonomics”?
SG: I got the book when it first came out. My folks teach social science and economics, so it’s the kind of material that we had around the dinner table growing up. Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics books are bringing these concepts to the everyday person – to the everyman, if you will – and I think they do a great job of doing that.
CUI: So, you had an informal economics background growing up. How did this background help you while working on “Freakonomics”?
SG: Incentive is a great way to understand people’s behavior, whether it’s financial or, in the case of “Freakonomics,” sort of unexpected incentives that drive what people do.
CUI: You contributed the transition segments in between the chapters. Is it true that you only had six weeks to get these segments done?
SG: Yeah, I mean, I was wearing a producer hat and a director hat on the movie, and so what I elected to do was to stitch the chapters together with sort of mini-chapters. We committed to the Tribeca Film Festival, and there were only about six weeks left for me to do those pieces, and it was intense to try to get through that much material. And in the midst of all that, my wife and I had our first son, so it was a challenge.
CUI: Did you [and your wife] take any hints from Morgan Spurlock’s segment [which was on the effect of the name on a child’s life] when deciding upon a name?
SG: It definitely influenced how seriously we took the naming process. We just kind of went with our gut instead of over-thinking it.
CUI: The movie was divided up into chapters, and each of these chapters had a different feeling to it. At times, it seemed like this format would work equally as well on television as on the big screen. Was this something that was intentional? Might there be a “Freakonomics” television show in the future?
SG: We would love to adapt it into a T.V. show. I think that [Stephen J.] Dubner is in the process of putting something like that together. I thought it was necessary to the film, and that’s why I approached the Stevens the way I did, to have them act as sort of hosts for the material. That’s why my pieces are driven by an interview with them, and I feel that that would really work for a TV version too. The content on the blog has a lot more stuff than just books.
CUI: Is it true that you are working on a “Super Freakonomics” film?
SG: We have the intention of adapting the next book as well because there is a lot of great stuff in that one.
CUI: Do you think that there is a cultural benefit to a movie like this?
SG: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of the messages we hear are political positioning on really important issues that affect all of our lives, and I feel like the book and the work behind the book is all rooted in the need for us to question the kind of messages that are given to us all the time by basically the pressures of a hyper-reductive, headline-driven media and similarly reductive impulses in advertising that make everything out to be oversimplified. I feel like this book asks its audience to question, to question those messages, not to be overly skeptical, but be open to seeing things a different way, and I think it’s an incredibly important message underneath all of it. And I feel there is really something in it for everybody.
CUI: The film stuck pretty close to the text, but omitted a good portion of what was in the book. Did you decide not to include some of the chapters intentionally?
SG: Not at all. If we covered the content of the whole book, it would have been a 10 hour mini-series, and we wanted to make a feature film that could play in theaters, so we couldn’t do the entire book. But the content of the sections was driven by the instinct of the directors of the sections. They pursued the chapters that they most responded to, and we were just lucky that none of the directors wanted to do the same stuff as each other. They all were interested in different chapters.
CUI: What were some of the unique aspects to making this film come together?
SG: With independent films there is always a concern about whether or not the film is really real or really going to come together. And I feel that we really had to deal with that pressure on this movie. And one of the things that I think helped it come together was that before the film was finished, we cut a trailer for the film, which was built out of pieces of the movie, and I think that was really important for us in terms of seeing what the whole could be. And it helped that all the directors sort of feel like the film was a real thing. They were all just working on their own schedules because documentaries are kind of unpredictable as how long they take to come together, and I feel that it really helped solidify the film for everybody.
“Freakonomics” is in theaters now.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Seth Gitner at Seth.email@example.com.